His name was Sam and he was one of those guys who could walk into a room and without even saying a word command attention from a room full of people. His smile and hearty laugh were contagious. When he played the piano everyone closed their eyes and let the melody overwhelm them. We called him “the piano man.” Sam had built a wonderful life for himself in his short 30 years. He had every reason to live and nothing holding him back. But on a cool Tuesday morning in early September, Sam would wake up, kiss his family members goodbye, drive to work and walk into his office for the last time.
On September 11, 2001 Sam was one of nearly 3,000 people who were killed in one of the most senseless and horrific attacks on humanity that this country has ever seen. Sam died sitting in a stairway in the south tower of the World Trade Center. He did not die alone. I’m sure there were many others beside him who were also trapped. Waiting for death to come. Hope for rescue quickly escaping.
I remember getting the call. I had been on the phone with my aunt who lived on Long Island at the time. I called her as soon as I saw the news report that a plane had hit the first tower. She walked out to her back porch and gazed at the New York skyline. She saw the same image I was witnessing on tv. And then it happened. As I stared at the tv screen I heard a loud whooshing noise coming from the other end of the phone. And then I watched the second plane collide with the other tower. It was silent for a few seconds and then my aunt let out one of the most painful and deafening screams I have ever heard. We both stood watching in horror. At that moment we both knew something evil had just begun. The line beeped letting me know I had another call. I let it go to voicemail but the caller continued to try to reach me. Finally I clicked over. “Kara, it’s Sam. He’s at work. I think I just watched him die.” His fiancée was slowly speaking the words as if even she didn’t understand them. Because she didn’t. For hours phone calls were made between Texas and New York. Telephone lines were jammed, internet was slow. There was a period of time I heard nothing. It was silent. And in that silence I could hear myself screaming, God, please don’t take away anyone else I love. It had been just over a year since my mother’s death. And now watching terror hit the city she grew up in was overwhelming and heartbreaking.
It would be days later before I would hear about Sam’s final moments. He was able to call his fiancée before running down the stairs in an attempt to save himself but he was aware of the probability that he might not get out alive. I like to think Sam sat on those stairs and hummed his favorite Beatles song as the building collapsed. I watched that building crumble that day knowing my friend was sitting inside. I pray the deep pain, the knot in my stomach I felt in that moment is something I never have to feel again. At that point, in less than two years, I had watched a handful of people I loved die right before my eyes. Trust me, watching death occur live, especially on national television, is a surreal experience.
But nearly a decade later I can see that Sam left a legacy of hope, determination and adventure. I still think about him often and smile. Last night when the news announced that Osama Bin Laden had been killed I found myself mourning the loss again. Sam was one of three people I lost on 9/11. Each life, each loss has been deeply felt throughout the years. No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t celebrate the death of the terrorist like many other Americans did last night. I felt no need to run down my street, waving an American flag chanting USA! like we won the World Cup or something. Death should never be an occasion to feel justified in our hatred. I rejoice in the lives my friends lived but I will not rejoice in the death of anyone. Not even a man who kills my friends. I have every reason, every excuse to be happy that he is gone and join in with the crowds of people declaring “justice was served” but I want to live my life practicing love the way Christ modeled. No one was exempt from His love or forgiveness. Today I still grieve. I am sad, but not angry or bitter. I choose to love the enemy.
This one’s for Sam: