Many families have a story to tell about that day. For those who lost loved ones, the story may still hold a painful grip on hearts—even ten years later. We have vivid memories of exactly what we were doing when we heard the fateful news. What were you doing?
Bob and I were up early that morning preparing to go to the airport in San Francisco to pick up our son, Nur, and his half-brother, Daak, returning from three weeks in Japan.
Showering and getting ready to leave, we listened to the news and made passing glances at the TV that sat in the corner between the bedroom and bathroom. We began to linger in front of the screen when the news broke that a small plane apparently hit one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Once cameras televised the scene, we were hooked—seeing thick, black smoke spew from the tower. Then watched in horror as a second plane, clearly a large plane, hit the South Tower.
I became numb, my mouth gaping as I held my hand over it. Then began to sob, realizing that we had been attacked by some horrible enemy of America. Even the news anchors claimed, "We are at war!"
Nur and Daak were in the air over the Pacific on Japan Airlines (JAL) headed for San Francisco. We learned that all air traffic was grounded and in-bound flights would be diverted. But where would his plane go? My heart pounded. God, please keep them safe.
Yes, it occurred to us that his plane could have been highjacked and now flew with a destructive intent toward the US. "I can't allow my mind to go there." I told Bob.
Our home became like a search and rescue hub. Radios and televisions were on throughout the house. We searched news sites on the Internet to gather every tidbit of information we could. Being ever mindful of the possibility of more attacks, we busied ourselves with finding our son to keep us from despairing over the state of the country.
We operated in a surreal world that day as did every other American. The day seemed to last forever as details of the tragedy came together. Two jumbo jets struck the World Trade Center Twin Towers causing them to collapse. Another plowed into the Pentagon. And another crashed in a field in Pennsylvania thought to have been bound for Washington DC.
No word about our son.
Finally, at 7:30 PM we heard from Nur. I heaved a sigh of relief. He called us from a pay phone at the Vancouver airport after he and Daak were allowed off the plane. Their plane had been sitting on the airport tarmac for seven hours!
"We didn't know what had happened until we got off the plane."
"What did the pilot tell you?" I wondered what kind of nightmare he might have endured all those hours.
"He told us that something happened and we had to go to Vancouver. I didn't know what to think."
Obviously confused with the situation, JAL told disembarking passengers they were “on their own” to get lodging and get home. Thank God for the Internet and airport courtesy phones. We procured lodging for Nur and Daak and paged them to communicate the information.
Then the waiting game began.
We tried to figure our what to do to get them home. We booked flights on the Internet with Alaska Airlines hoping to get them home the next day, but learned flights were still grounded. Each day we attempted to get them a flight to no avail.
Finally on Thursday September 13, we heard that misplaced flights would fly to their originally intended destination. We contacted the boys at their hotel instructing them to get in touch with JAL.
Early that next morning we prepared again to pick up our son at the San Francisco airport. On the way we picked up balloons and called the local TV station.
Waiting in the reception area for incoming international flights, we watched throngs of Japanese passengers from the JAL flight appear from behind the wall that separated us from immigration. Seeing Nur and Daak eventually emerge gave my heart a lift. He's home and safe.
After the media interviewed the boys about their experience, we travelled back home. I contemplated what I felt at Nur's arrival. Home and safe had new meanings. Yes, he was home in America, but was he safe—were we safe?
Now ten year later, I think of safety and home in a different light—from an eternal perspective. And look to the LORD for my safety and understand that heaven is my real home.
"The name of the LORD is a strong tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe." Proverbs 18:10