Twelve years ago, my boat was docked at a marina on the Hudson River, exactly in the flight path of one of the planes that ultimately flew into the Twin Towers. My husband and I had embarked on a yearlong boat adventure with our four sons. We had planned to be in New York City by then, but instead, we changed course and decided to tie up in Albany, rent a car, and take an impromptu road trip to Boston for the weekend instead.
Had we made it to the marina we'd planned to dock at in New York City by September 11th, we would have seen the entire catastrophe unfold from the water. This marina instead ended up being used as a morgue for the bodies pulled from the rubble.
The New York harbor was closed for three weeks after 9/11. When they finally re-opened the harbor, Ground Zero still smoldered, and the trauma of that day was as pungent and breathtaking as the ash and odor that lingered in the air.
On our first excursion into the city after the tragedy, we stood on a corner within full view of the twisted steel of the Towers. Handmade posters of missing persons were plastered on every surface. A thick coating of ash and glass covered stacks of clothes that lay neatly displayed in a storefront whose windows were blown out in the blast. The air smelled like an incinerator.
People seemed to move in slow motion. There was an eerie hush at a time of day when the street would normally be abuzz with activity. As we stood there trying to grasp the magnitude of the horrific scene before us, I realized I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a woman who was crying.
"This must be very hard for you," I said. "I'm so sorry."
She stared at the wreckage and said, "This is my first time back since I left work on 9/11."
She likely had friends whose bodies had been scattered to the wind in the aftermath of those terrible plane crashes. The shards that clung to every surface weren't just dust and broken glass—there were bone fragments, too.
We were standing on a graveyard, not a street corner.
To make matters worse, a day after arriving in New York City, we visited NBC Studios. The next day they announced they had received a letter laced with anthrax. A new terror seemed to lurk at every turn.
We struggled to help our kids digest the historic events unfolding before us. We desperately wanted to sail far away, as fast as our boat could carry us. And yet there was no safe harbor for us to hide from the reality that the world as we knew it had changed.
Today, the world is no safer.
When I heard about plans for a 9/11 memorial museum to be erected on the site of one of the Twin Towers, my stomach turned. It's too soon, I thought. Too soon to relive that horrific day. Too soon to "curate memories of terror."
I didn't physically experience the horror of 9/11 like so many thousands of victims and people on that actual day, nor did I lose a loved one as a direct result of that tragedy. Still, like most Americans, I was forever changed by the events of that day. I no longer blithely enter crowded places without considering whether the location could be a target for a terrorist attack. I no longer feel dispassionate when I hear about suicide bombs exploding and killing innocent bystanders in other places around the globe. I know now what the fallout of such a tragedy looks like.
We had a choice whether to leave this country for good at a time when all hell seemed to be breaking loose. Instead, after spending a year in the sanctuary of offshore islands, removed from the aftermath of the worst calamity our country has faced, we came back home.
Ultimately, the only safe harbor we will ever find is in God. Thankfully, we can find sanctuary in him all the time—even in the midst of terror.
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Marian V. Liautaud is landlocked in Illinois with her husband and sons as Today's Christian Woman's editor and editor of church management resources for Christianity Today. Follow her on Twitter @marianliautaud.