Five Years Later: Remembering the hole in my heart, and the question on my mind

Last night, Dennise and I watched a 911 documentary on CBS. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s from two French film-makers who, in the summer of 2001 shadowed a FDNY unit in an attempt to tell the story of a “rookie’s coming of age.” But late that summer, on the morning of September 11th, they just happened to be out filming a routine call –a report of a gas leak– when a plane flew overhead, slammed into the World Trade Center, and they found themselves as ground-zero videographers for the worst day in our nation’s history.

The rest of the film chronicles their short two-minute ride to the site, the heroism of the FDNY, and the way they cheated death when the first tower fell, encasing them all in toxic white powder.

It’s riveting footage. And, to my way of thinking, an incredibly appropriate way to honor the heroism of those incredible men and women…and to remember that terrible day.

As I watched the show, I bawled like a baby. I mean bawled. You see, it’s been several years since I saw some of those visual images:
the burning buildings…
the people looking up in disbelief…
the horror of the buildings crumbling to the ground, and people run for their lives in terror…

And, like you probably did today, I remembered back to where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news, and it suddenly all came back. The weekend before 911 had been a good one. I had actually been down in Kerrville at the SWERFA Conference. What a great time that was…hanging out with friends, playing music till early in the morning…

I arrived home and had intended to write some thank you notes to folks, telling them how great it had been to see them. In fact, I was probably going to do that on Tuesday morning. But then, early that morning, Dennise called back home on her way to work. She told me a plane had hit the WTC, and she told me to turn on our TV. Like most of America, I then turned on our TV to see the smoking buildings in a scene that seemed completely surreal.

The idea of planes hitting the buildings was surreal.
The idea that they could collapse to the ground just an hour later was surreal.
The idea that a small group of terrorists could have pulled it off was surreal.

There was just nothing about that day that seemed real.

But it was. It was all-too horribly real. And, like me, you probably cried off and on for weeks. Someone has put up Jon Stewart’s first post-911 monologue. Somewhere between 911 and now, I became a huge Jon Stewart fan. Until today, I’d never seen this monologue before. And somehow, seeing a guy who excels at comedy having a hard time making jokes and speaking from his heart, reminded me how broken-open my heart was during that time:

Doesn’t that bring it all back for you too?

Of course, no matter where you were in America those next few days, surreality followed you. Those of us who live in big cities walked outside to empty skies for almost a week. Almost nobody got any work done for days. We were all glued to cable TV networks, searching for some sense of something that made …well, sense…

…maybe a survivor would be found
…maybe we would find who had done this
…maybe we would find an answer to the question why.

But as the months passed and the “pile” of debris was removed, a just-as-gaping “hole” was created in our souls. No matter how deeply those first-responders dug, they only turned up dust. And now, five years later, we continue to sift through the dust of that day, and we continue to find nothing but emptiness.

And the mastermind behind it all is still walking around a free man today. And as I remember 911, I cannot help but remember this too. So, while I remember five-years-ago, I also have one question. It’s a question I ask on this blog a lot because, to me, it’s the hanging chad of the entire 911-experience:

Where is Osama Bin Laden?

So-called experts say he’s no longer a threat.
The President told us a few years back that he really didn’t think about him much anymore.
The CIA unit, put together to hunt him down, has been dismantled.
Pakistan has cut a deal with the tribal warlords who are believed to be sheltering him to keep their troops out….effectively creating a buffer zone where he can operate with impunity.
And WE? We apparently haven’t even blinked an eye about any of this.

I just don’t get it. I really don’t.

Look, I don’t care if Bin Laden never launches another attack again. I don’t care if he is so isolated that he can’t harm a field mouse. I don’t care if he’s living in a cave, eating cockroaches, and drinking his own urine.

The point is, he’s the greatest mass murderer of our time. The point is, he’s directly responsible for the greatest terrorist attack in our country’s history. The point is that, if justice has any meaning at all, he deserves to be brought to it.

From what I’ve heard, ABC chose to mark the five years since 911 with a docu-drama that blames it on President Clinton. Allegedly based on the 911 Commission Report, the show has been panned by several of the 911 Commission members for its unfair portrayal of events during that time.


Clinton actually launched missile attacks to try and TAKE OUT Bin Laden, and got blamed for “wagging the dog.” (Remember who stood up on the House Floor to denounce him for this? Hint: Think recently-resigned Congressman from South Texas, who goes by the nickname, “Hot Tub”) But somehow, Clinton didn’t do enough and somehow, in some people’s twisted minds, it’s all his fault.

OK. I’ll cede that he could have done more; and I’ll be happy to do this, so long as I get to ask MY question:

Why, five years later, has Bin Laden not be captured?!!!

See, eventually this cannot be Clinton’s fault. Eventually, it has to be the fault of those who have put all our resources into Iraq, and taken their eyes off the ball.

As I do every night, I watched Keith Olbermann’s show tonight. At the end, he delivered a stinging and strident commentary. Using that still-empty hole at ground zero as a backdrop, he spoke with an anger that many of my friends have carried in their hearts for five years. Using the same metaphor of an empty, ground-zero hole, he also talked about the hole in our nation. But he’s a lot angrier than I am. (At least tonight…)

Crooks and Liars already has the video. Those of you who are frustrated by the war, frustrated by the administration, and pained by the memory of 911, will probably like it. Those of you who still support the President probably won’t. But here’s the link.

I can’t agree with everything he says or seems to advocate. But I understand the anger. I really do. And I hear that anger from a lot of people these days. And, love him or hate him, Olbermann’s critics do well to realize that he doesn’t so much make this stuff up, as he channels things that many people in the country –maybe even the majority– are feel and believe right now.

So, I watched Olbermann tonight.
I watched CBS last night.
But I did not watch ABC’s trash.

And in my way, five years later, I remembered.

I remembered 911.

I can promise the loved ones of those who gave their lives that day, that I remembered and I always WILL remember. I may not remember each and every day of my life. But the experience of this fifth anniversary reminds me that, when I open myself up just a little, those tears come rushing back, as if it happened just yesterday.

What I will choose to remember is the incredible heroism of the FDNY.

I will choose to remember how, for one brief and shining period after 911, our country was more unified than it’s ever been in my lifetime

And tonight, I will remember how our nation’s heart broke that day, in ways that will likely never heal. I will allow myself to remember the hole in the ground, and the hole in our hearts, that we all carry still.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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