The lights of September 11, 2001

By Bruce Stambaugh

My memories from September 11, 2001 are bathed in an emotional kaleidoscope of lights that seemed to guide me through that infamous day.
Sun rays by Bruce Stambaugh
The first light broke with the sunrise as I readied for work. I stood awestruck at the beauty that played out before me. The light from the morning sun glinted in bright shafts of beams through and around the leafy branches of the giant black oak tree directly across from our home. A misty ground fog was rising, reflecting and refracting light beams every which way.

The haze had dissipated and the sky turned pure sapphire by the time I reached my workplace. The sun had no competition now. The brightness of the crystal clear day buoyed me.

A lengthy phone call interrupted my regular startup office routine, which included turning on the radio. The caller went on and on, unnecessarily repeating point after point.

The second line on my phone rang. By the time I could rid myself of the windy caller, the other call had already gone into my voice mail.

Soon the little red light on the phone began to blink, the signal that I had a message. It was from our son, who lived and worked in New York City. Despite the passage of time, I can still distinctly hear his words.

“Dad,” Nathan’s message said, “Something has happened at the World Trade Center. We don’t have Internet or TV. Can you tell me what’s going on?”

I hung up and quickly turned on the radio. The first thing I heard was that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. I bolted to the receptionist’s desk to find out what was happening. I was told that a plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City.

I tried to reach my son at his workplace, which was just south of Times Square. Neither his office phone nor cell phone would ring through. Fear gripped me.

Nathan's shadow by Bruce Stambaugh

Our son, Nathan, during a break while on a work project near San Marcos, Ocotopeque, Honduras


I went to a TV to watch what was happening. By then, the second tower had been hit, and reports were coming in of another plane down in southwestern Pennsylvania.

At 10:45 a.m., I was paged for a phone call. I picked up the line and it was my son.

“Dad,” he said trying to cover his anxiety, “I don’t know how I got a line out to you. I just wanted you to know that I’m OK but that Manhattan is locked down. No one is going in or out.”

Despite our mutual fears, an indescribable light of love connected my son and I through those phone wires. We spoke for about 10 minutes until Nathan said that others wanted to use his phone. By late afternoon we were calmed with the news that our son had safely returned to his apartment.
Holding hands by Bruce Stambaugh
At the end of that incredibly long, exhausting day another light shown. The live TV coverage broadcast a surreal scene. The evening’s sun filtered through the gray, smoldering debris at Ground Zero. A ghostly spire, all that structurally remained of the Twin Towers, reflected and refracted light beams eerily similar to those at the oak that morning. I hoped that some good could come of this horrific international catastrophe.

Now a decade removed, I still cling to that desire, though too many lives have had their own individual lights snuffed out. I long for the light of peace among all peoples, even if it means the need to share that light one person at a time.

9 Comments

Filed under column, family, history, photography, writing

9 responses to “The lights of September 11, 2001

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I also hoped, and continue to hope, that good would come from despair, instead of continuing violence and tragedy.

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  2. Your are kidding me! Is Nathan from Troyer’s Dutch Heritage your son??????

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  3. This is such a beautiful piece, Bruce. I’m so grateful your son was able to contact you and escaped physical harm — though I’m sure the emotional turmoil was devastating.

    May the 10-year anniversary bring us all moments of quiet reflection…

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    • Mikalee,

      Thanks. I’m glad you liked it. Yes, it was all very traumatic. Let’s hope and pray that we indeed can remember in moments of quiet reflection as individuals and as a country.

      Thanks, again.

      Bruce

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  4. Ellen Buskirk

    Stories of light always touch the heart and we all hope that light returns to the whole world to heal all the harm that was done that day and in retaliation for it.

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  5. Hello Bruce,
    I hope this note finds you well. It had been my intention several days ago to send these two ‘postings’ written on or around September 11. The article about your experience on that phenomenal day was touching (as are so many).
    Please do not think of me as bold, I share these with someone who I believe is a kindred spirit.
    In peace,
    Carrie

    http://carriecraig.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/where-were-you/
    http://www.buildfaith.org/2011/09/09/of-images-and-memories/

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