Updated: Oct 26, 2018
On 9/11 in 2001, I was the Assistant Academic Dean and Director of Grants at EMCC and was scurrying around campus collecting the last bits of data I needed from various staff in order to complete a Federal Title III grant application. A relatively normal, albeit stressful day. It didn’t take long for that normal work day to get turned upside down. I was in the Admissions office (then in Maine Hall), when the director came out of her office and told me the awful news.
The country is under attack. People are hurt. People are dying. It’s happening on live tv.
In a short span of time, several televisions from the library were rolled into the lobbies and small crowds of students, faculty and staff gathered around each to watch. No one said much. There was nothing to say. We simply stood silently and watched. Watched the replays of the south tower falling, then watched the north tower fall in real time, then watched the replays of both towers falling, over and over and over.
The college president was on a business trip overseas, and shortly after the significance of the morning’s events became apparent, she contacted the college from Ireland. Not knowing how large-scale potential planned attacks might be, she and other college presidents in the system felt it was prudent to send everyone home and by 1:30 or so, campus was abandoned. We all went from watching news on tv in the lobby of Maine Hall to watching unfolding horrible news on tv from our own couches.
After several more hours of watching the same footage, fighting back tears of anguish for what was yet an undetermined but obviously large number of casualties, I couldn’t take anymore. I did what I almost always do when I need to find solace. I went to the woods.
The extended archery season had just started, so I grabbed my gear, gave Chris and the kids a little longer hug goodbye than normal, and headed to a tree stand.
I was lost in thoughts, calmed by the smells and sounds and solitude of the forest and almost didn’t hear the sounds of crunching leaves coming up the trail my stand overlooked. It was still fully daylight, but the sun was low, casting long shadows with just one small patch of sunlight trickling through an opening about 10 yards to my left. I couldn't see any movement, but suddenly and silently, as they have a habit of doing, a beautiful 8 point simply emerged from shadow into sunlight. And as if by magic, a larger 10 point stepped out into the opening to stand right behind him. They stood perfectly bathed in sunlight and obviously didn’t see me or hear me or smell me. But since they survive in the woods for a living, they felt me. Or felt something anyway.
They stood motionless for a long five minutes. Only their eyes and ears moved, searching the woods for a sight or sound that would confirm what they felt. It was among the most beautiful images I have ever witnessed in all of my long hours spent in the woods. Close enough to see their noses twitch, and their ribs rise and fall as they breathed in the scents around them. They were majestic, serene, peaceful. That image was so far removed from the horror I had watched non-stop since mid-morning, that I was transfixed. It never occurred to me to reach for an arrow. It never occurred to me that I was only 10 yards from two trophy deer and could take my pick of which I would shoot. It never occurred to me to take a life. On this day that had already seen too much life taken, I simply stood silently and watched…
The sun continued its slow slide to the horizon, the shadows grew longer, and the two eventually stepped into the darkness and continued on their way. I waited until full darkness, then went home. And of course sat down and watched more news.
Even though 17 years have passed since that terrible day, I can’t get the iconic images out of my head. The plane hitting the north tower. The fireball. The towers as they collapsed purging dust and debris as they fell. And of course, fellow human beings running for their lives, dazed, confused and bathed in the dust vomited from the falling tower.
I am still angry and filled with sorrow for the lost souls and for what we were all forced to witness that day. But on that day, I also saw something so breathtakingly beautiful that it too has become an image seared into my mind. And I am so grateful to have seen that, for on that most horrible of days, it helped to soothe my soul, to calm my heart, and ease my mind, at least for a little while. What more can any of us ask?