It didn’t start out as just another typical Tuesday morning for me, in fact it had been uncertain already for a few weeks on medical leave due to a broken leg. Things were a little scary with a reduced income on workmen’s compensation. For the first time in my adult life, I was almost totally dependent on another human being, that being my wife Mary.
I must have been reading the newspaper because the television couldn’t have been on due to a phone call from my wife’s daughter, Karen, in North Carolina. She never called at 9am in the morning. She asked hurriedly if we were watching TV and then said “If you’re not, turn it on”.
I don’t remember any of the rest of the conversation, only the stark images being viciously hurled toward our shocked faces. It was sometime between 9:46 and 11:28 (CDT) on September 11th, 2001. My wife and I were not aware at that time that America was under attack. We were quickly theorizing how a plane could ever wander so far off course, even with some type of mechanical problem. Terrorism came to mind, but not here, not on US soil.
And then the second tower was hit and fear entered our minds. We had to have reached for each other for comfort as we continued to be assaulted with images and words that we never thought that we would ever witness on this side of the globe. This kind of stuff was for the Middle East and other places, not here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I think for the first time in my adult life as parent, I saw real fear in the eyes of my children as they asked “Daddy, what’s this world coming to ? ” or exclaimed “Daddy, I’m scared”.
And then we became witness to one of the most terrifying moments that over the next few days would become poignant for me. After each of the buildings fell, we begin to watch not just black or white or yellow or brown people walking, stumbling or being carried out of the ashen clouds for blocks around the towers, we saw what I now call the “gray people”. Some were either running for their life or trying to do something as simple as breath due to the violent pollution now being thrust into the air.
We couldn’t tell whether they were Americans, or of Mexican, African or Oriental descent. We quite frankly didn’t care if they were Catholic, Baptist, Jewish or even Mormon like myself. We didn’t think about their political affiliation, the size of the house that they lived in or the kind of car they drove. The only identifiable occupations that we denoted were firemen, policemen, EMT’s, doctors, nurses and the occasional priest administering last rites or ministering to the scared and broken-hearted.
The Gray People quickly became symbolic of how for one brief moment that stands out absolutely clear to me, everyone represented digitally on our screen were Americans. And if they weren’t Americans, they belong to me because they were granted life by the same Heavenly Father that created me. We were all a member of the human race and somewhere at some point in our lives, we were told that we should love one another.
Days turned into months and months into years and somewhere along the path, the lines of race, income, nationality, religion and basic human dignity and love between each other have been clearly established again. Distrust, revenge and pure hate returned to the forefront.
“These things ought not to be” a very wise man once said. Another time He said “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.”.
I will always remember the gray people, because in the midst of horror, chaos and turmoil, they give hope and represent to me that perhaps somehow, some day, we can learn to love one another again.
James M. Rioux