Of all the people I had encountered since pulling out of my driveway early the previous morning, God had placed Mark in my life to spend the 12th anniversary of September 11. He had served six deployments overseas in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. I was afraid to ask if he had served anywhere else, lest he have to kill me. He spoke of those times off-handedly, without pride or an over inflated sense of accomplishment. I did not really appreciate the honor of being in this soldier's company until days later when recuperating at home. I'm not really sure I have what it takes to comprehend the sacrifice he and so many others had made since our ancestors declared their independence from the British Empire over two centuries ago. When I take time to contemplate the true price of freedom, my mind can scarce take it in. I know my soul understands because the heart becomes so full of gratitude it overflows through my eyes. What other nation has sent its young men and women to the farthest reaches of the planet over and over again in the name of freedom against tyranny? We understand in the core of our being the words of Christ: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." All those who suffered under the oppression of despots, tyrants and dictators, all those who are denied their God given rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, all those who yearn to be free, THEY are our friends, THEY are our neighbors. The tragedy that took 3,000 lives on September 11, 2001 was because evil still existed, evil that despised freedom and the search of righteousness. We finally understood what so much of the world had been going through for so long. We had become citizens of the world in our grief and outrage, and finally realized that every American was now a soldier in the fight against the forces of darkness and hatred. Each and every one of us now had to be willing to lay down our life for our friends. In this context, Mark, myself and every lover of freedom were now deployed on the global stage, and we have to not only find the right weapon to fight with (our hands, our minds, our hearts, our words, our love), many of us must learn how to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11).
Mark and I crossed Constitution and plodded west toward our transportation. It took every bit of effort on my part to keep up with his long strides, but like a good soldier I sucked it up and kept moving. Bikers still roared through the streets intermittently, filling the heat-packed air with an incessant growl. This day was not seceded to Muslims wanting only to cry about their rights being compromised. This day was not for anyone to complain about anything. There were 364 days of the year to do that. This day was to reflect and remember the precious lives that were brutally snuffed out twelve years ago, and to rededicate ourselves to making sure they had not died in vain. My body was on the cusp of collapsing and my mind was befuddled, but through the mist of my suffering I heard Cookie's raspy voice: "My nephew was on the 103rd floor that day." As long as there was breath in my body, as long as blood coursed through my veins, I would never forget his nephew, nor the other innocent victims trapped in the twin towers or their planes or the Pentagon, nor of the hundreds of first responders who gave their lives trying to save the lives of others. No, I would not forget September 11, 2001, not in all the days of my life.
Eventually we parted ways. I thanked Mark profusely for the honor of his company and then watched as he walked on. He had given me strength enough to endure, but now I had to find it within myself if I ever hoped of making it back to my car and then to a few million gallons of ice water. I only had to ask two pedestrians how to get to the Reagan Building, and eventually stumbled into the Metro station. I stared at the map in my hands and the signs posted around the station and swayed as if listening to some sweet blues song as throngs of people buzzed around me. When I discovered where the train I needed was, I weaved my way there. At one point I came across an escalator that wasn't working and began to ascend. I was grateful there were no others around because my going was slow. About halfway up my legs and arms started shaking with weakness, and I began to lose my grip and step, but a firm hand suddenly supported my back and proceeded to push me up. I thanked whoever it was, too afraid to take my eyes off my feet, and told them they couldn't have timed that any better. My helper didn't say a word but kept steady pressure on my back and supported me the rest of the way. Finally at the top, I turned around to face the Good Samaritan . . . and no one was there. I stood holding the top of the guard rail as the realization of this divine help struck my consciousness like a number 9 ball peen hammer. Had there been a bench or chair I'm sure I would have collapsed into it, but just the rushing sound of my train filled the cavernous station. I had to take my amazement and gratitude with me, although I wanted nothing more than to fall on my face, not from dehydration and heat exhaustion, but from absolute love for my Savior.
The car I entered was almost empty, and I plopped into the first seat I could. The air was cool but I barely noticed, still in shock and awe. That unseen hand was on the hearts of all those who had lost their lives on 9/11, was on the hearts of every American that horrible day, telling us we were not alone, never had been and never will be. I bowed my head in absolute gratitude and worship.
Eventually I arrived at the Metro station where my car was parked. I looked out over the sea of vehicles and completely forgot where I had parked my Focus, so I wandered through it until finding my car at last. Ah, the air conditioning was like a slice of Heaven! I let the cold slowly banish the thick heat emanating from my every pore. In time I drove out of the parking lot and searched for a store or gas station or restaurant that had water. My years of medical training screamed at me that I was on the verge of heat stroke. It took every single bit of concentration to drive, but even then I recalled the hand on my back, and I found the strength to carry on. To my delight I soon found a Burger King. I practically crawled in and purchased a large drink and a Coke Icee, then proceeded to rehydrate. I didn't notice the biker until he sat across from me and exclaimed "Hey, weren't you there today?" My journey was certainly not over by a long shot.
To be Continued...