Where to Put Our Grief

by Sandy Tomczyk

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working in northern New Jersey - only 30-40 miles from New York City. I knew the exact second when the first plane flew into the World Trade Center because I was listening to a NYC radio station that broadcasts from there. The radio program all of a sudden was all static. I tried to find my program again but it continued to be only static while all the neighboring programs had fine reception. I didn't know WHAT had happened then but just wrote it off as a cheap motel radio. As I exited my room to put my suitcase in my car, I KNEW SOMETHING had happened as I saw the grave looks on peoples faces as they were watching the TV in the motel lobby. And as I joined them in watching what was being shown, I remember my confusion and horror in trying to comprehend what I was seeing. My first thought was some in-experienced pilot must have accidentally flown his plane into the World Trade Center. But then a minute later they showed ANOTHER airplane fly, crash and explode into the second World Trade Tower. The words "Live Action" in the bottom corner of the television screen made it clear that what we were watching wasn't an excerpt from the next outrageous, action movie to premiere in the cinemas. I had to watch it again and listen to the reporter's words to be convinced this wasn't Hollywood's creation. I turned to a young man next to me to just ask him, "Can you believe this?"-Maybe I had to just hear my voice to make sure I wasn't in a bad dream. We both expressed our horror at what we had just seen.

Then I thought I had better hurry to my first appointment so my buyer wouldn't worry about me. As I was driving, I tried to phone my office from my cell phone but couldn't get any reception. This struck me as being odd since I was in an area of abundant antennas. I remember looking up in the sky at the most beautiful deep blue, clear sky. Ever since 9/11 now, I compare the sky's color to the depth of blue of that day.

Before I arrived at my first appointment, the news came that the first tower had totally collapsed. When I met my buyer, we actually hugged. All I could say was, "Are you all right? Is everyone you know all right?" She told me that she didn't even know what happened till her husband phoned her the minute she walked in the door to say that their daughter was fine. Her reply to him was, "What do you mean?" as she wasn't listening to the radio while she drove to work that morning. Their daughter works in the Trade Center and had an important meeting that morning, but bad traffic kept her from being on time for it. She even SAW the first plane fly into the tower and that was when she phoned her father - in hysterics. My buyer thought she would keep our appointment and then leave to try and comfort her daughter.

As the news continued that day- "The second trade tower collapsing, a third plane crashing into the Pentagon, a fourth airplane crashing in PA with suspected terrorist hijackers abroad, no one knowing the whereabouts of President Bush,"-my mind just whirled with the incomprehensible anarchy of it all. I kept thinking, "What in the world is going on?" and "Is this for real!" I continued with my schedule that day of three other appointments. I wouldn't go in with my display cases because I wanted to make sure my buyers were OK and hadn't lost a family member or friend that morning and felt up to keeping our appointment. By 2:30 or so that day I was driving south on the Garden State Parkway when I saw it - not the NYC skyline one can see on a clear day but the atomic bomb smoke cloud where the skyline usually is. Then I totally broke down and just sobbed (as I do everytime I think about it) and thought, "It is for real." Our minds can't grasp the reality of it because these acts are so wildly outrageous. "Words" can't articulate or describe the confusion or fear we feel.

I finished my day driving south on the NJ Turnpike which had signs, "NYC closed to all traffic." All I wanted to do was get into my motel room and SEE the news. When I finally did SEE the towers collapse, the horror of it seemed confusing to my mind and I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had trouble just making myself go to bed that night. I thought, "How can I pull warm, comfortable blankets over me while people so close have cement slabs on them tonight." I felt so helpless. I wanted to drive into NYC and help the MANY who were in need that night. I thought, "But what could I do? I don't know rescue and I have no medical training. The City is closed anyway." Then I thought (and I never think like this), "I want to join the army. I want to do something extremely dangerous and difficult and give my life to stop this." I felt the Holy Spirit quiet me down and answer my thoughts, "But you are in an army, the army of God and you can pray." I did pray, but it didn't make the pain and sorrow go away that night (and for a long while after also).

One of my buyers the next day greeted me and asked how I was. I just couldn't reply with the usual response but said, "Everything about me is different. I feel like I'm a different person than two days ago." I found I had to talk about it to every customer.

I ended my week selling in Washington, D.C., on Thursday and Friday and even drove by the Pentagon on my way home. Eventually I realized what my problem was. I was so utterly overwhelmed with the grief and sorrow which started on that beautiful, innocent Tuesday morning. I don't know if I felt the sorrow because I was physically "next door" in NJ to it and then later "next door" in DC to it. Or, possibly because I so love the areas I travel and feel like all the dear people living in NJ, DC and all my travel states are part of my "road family." Or, maybe my empathy is felt so acutely because my little world crashed in on me twice-at age five when my mother passed away and then 15 years later when my father passed away. No matter what the reasons though-I just didn't know where to put all the grief and sorrow in America. I just needed to get home. I couldn't be alone with the news and sorrow and grief anymore. I was being swallowed up and losing myself in it all. I thought, "I'm a Christian. I should be helping others instead of needing help. The Bible has all the answers." And I truly believe the Bible DOES have all the answers-even to today's modern-day problems. The verse that came to mind was Isaiah 53:4, "He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." I know that nothing happens to us or anyone without sufficient grace to deal with the problem or issue at hand-SO, America HAS sufficient grace and IS strong enough to handle this most horrible event.

Dealing With the Sorrow

As the days continued, I couldn't let myself rest. For almost two months after Sept. 11th, I averaged 4-6 hours of sleep usually. It surprised me that I could function on so many four hour nights. I either had to be busy doing something so I couldn't think of the sadness, or I would turn to the TV set to see if I could watch something to entertain me and make me laugh or watch a program to see how other people dealt with problems. I wasn't dealing with the grief and sorrow as I should have and KNEW thankfulness was the only way to deal with it. I had to go back to the Truth --

"He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." It's not that I can explain the depth of this Truth or even exactly HOW another should deal with their grief. All I know is that I had to bow before Jesus and THANK HIM FOR BEARING SEPT. 11TH's ENORMOUS GRIEF AND SORROW AND PAIN. To thank Him that He bore it ALL in His DEAR BODY. To thank Him that He knows the needs of all the little five year olds with only one parent now. To thank Him that He knows the needs of my buyer's daughter who lost almost all of her co-workers and so many friends that day. To thank Him for all the one parent homes now who have to raise their children alone and He'll meet their every need. To thank Him that he not only knows every need but He cared so much as to do something about it so we all may receive comfort and healing and life in the midst of our grief and sorrow. It's not that we receive life "from" our grief because Jesus is "the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Miraculously Jesus has made a way of life for us all by bearing in His own Body all the grief and sorrow and sin of the world. The sadnesses that come into our lives can be the vehicle to where we'll find new life and healing in Jesus, "and with His stripes we are healed," (Isaiah 53:5b). The new life we find in Jesus then will eventually even find its way to Joy (hard as that now may be to even conceive)-Jeremiah 31:13, "I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow."

Return to Table of Contents