The alarm went off as families scrambled to start another day. Not a hint of a cloud in the sky – this Tuesday promised to be a perfect fall day with cloudless blue skies and crisp, fall air. Parents stumbled out the door, dropping kids off at school, stopping for a quick cup of coffee to get the “motor” running, then heading to work. In every sense of the imagination, another normal day in the lives of many people.
Those assumptions were short-lived as commercial airliners crashed in tall towers made of steel. For 102 minutes, time stood still as the nation and the world sat in horror as events unfolded. The devastation they witnessed were difficult to comprehend.
Everyone has a story about that fateful day. I was in a high-rise office building in downtown Dallas, frantically reaching out to family members to make sure they were alright. No one knew what was happening or what was yet to come.
Troy Brewer knew someone who was at the World Trade Center that day. His friend, Jonathan Briley, walked into work that morning looking up as always. The son of a Baptist pastor, Jonathan grew up working on his daddy’s P.A. system at church. His interest in music and speaking eventually landed him a job at the famed restaurant Windows of the World as the sound engineer. Anytime there was a conference or a celebration, it was Jonathan’s job to set up and run the sound equipment.
On September 11th, 2001, the restaurant was holding a breakfast for 16 members of the Waters Financial Technology Congress, and 71 other guests. For work demands, Jonathan had to be there early. About 20 minutes after he arrived, American Airlines flight 11 slammed into the North Tower just a few stories beneath him.
It was impossible for those estimated 1000 people trapped on floors 100 through 107 to escape the inferno. The stairs were filled with burning fuel and the heat was unbearable. Meanwhile, New Yorkers looked up at the towers with their hands over their gaping mouths.
Richard Drew, a famous photojournalist, lived close to the towers. Richard was no stranger to history as he had been one of only four photographers in the room when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated nearly forty years earlier.
At 9:41 am, 56 minutes after the ordeal had started; Richard pointed his camera lens upward and caught a man falling. He took 12 pictures of Jonathan Briley as he plunged 1300 feet to Church Street below. It’s believed that Jonathan is the famous “falling man”. The picture, as seen by millions throughout the world, caught a person headed straight down completely vertical, almost casual and calm. His arms are by his side; his left leg is bent at the knee, and his white jacket billowing free against black pants. An amazing photograph, yet it is one most of wish we had never seen.
The toxic fumes forced Jonathan, an asthmatic, outside for almost an hour before the end. Jonathan was in a place where every option had been taken away from him, yet he mustered the courage to step out of the heat and into the hands of God.
Did the thousands of victims wake up that Tuesday morning realizing that would be their last day on earth? I don’t have that answer. What I do know is that each day we have on this earth is a gift and what we do with that gift is our gift to others. Whatever tough decisions we are facing today, I hope we have the courage to trust God when nothing else makes sense. Scripture tells us we all have an appointed day to die. Were they ready on 9/11? When it’s your time, will you be?
1 Corinthians 15:54 “So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”