I’ve lived away from New York City for the past four-and-a-half years, after spending a little more than 30 years in its two of its five boroughs. I return every couple of months or so to find that old haunts and cherished restaurants have disappeared. Of course, those places were disappearing even when I lived there — that’s part of the charm of New York City, things come and go. In the city that’s very name has been changed to stay current, old things are constantly made new.
But it never became less jarring to note the Twin Towers’ absence on the horizon. As a child, driving with my family into Alphabet City from Queens for a second round of church each Sunday, the pair were the anchor to the skyline: Twin Towers to the left, Empire State Building in the middle, look just a bit to your right and see the jagged edge of Citigroup Center. It was orienting. And it was beautiful.
Fifteen years later, it’s hard to write about 9/11 — and not just because it’s hard to find an angle that hasn’t been parsed over and over again. As a New Yorker, it’s hard to relive the horror and fear and overwhelming grief. We’re different for having experienced it — we all have stories of where we were and what we did.
I’ll never forget looking out the windows of the union offices where I worked in Queens and seeing the burning towers begin to collapse. I’ll never forget the panic of not being able to call my dad to come get me because the roads were closing and cell service had disappeared along with the skyscrapers. I’ll never forget sitting out on the benches between the library and the science building at Queens College, my alma mater, looking out at the skyline. It was 9/12 and everything was a cloud of ruin. It was disorienting. And it was terrible.
In the days and weeks and months — and hell, even years — that followed, the slow process of recovery and rebuilding began. Many things were made new. New buildings and memorials emerged from the rubble. New faith was born from the ordeal. Anecdotally, many new churches have been planted and grown in the years since the attacks.
That’s New York. Things come and go. Old things are made new.
It’s an earth-bound example of what people of faith — especially those who still grieve — can look forward to:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)
A few days after the attacks, I helped distribute sandwiches and refreshments to mourners at the makeshift memorial that sprang up in Union Square. I remember hugging a total stranger while she wept on my shoulder. I gave her a napkin and helped wipe away her tears.
It’s been 15 years. Those tears have dried, for some. The skyline has another building anchoring it. Many things have been made new.
But not all things. I look forward to the day when that will happen. In the meantime, I wipe away the tears and hold to the hope that the promise of full restoration and redemption is “trustworthy and true.”