We must never forget the bravery first responders showed during the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
In a time filled with amazing stories, let me share one appropriate for this month.
Robert “Bob” Hilland, while he was stuck in the snarl of morning traffic, looked up as the first plane hit the one of New York’s Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001. It seemed like it was a dream until the people around him started getting out of their cars and pointing. He was not sure what just happened and wondered how a plane could have gotten so far off course.
Then the second plane hit. It was then he realized it was not an accident.
His agency phone broke the moment and he was told to report to their downtown headquarters to begin emergency operations. After meeting with his FBI team, they made their way toward the burning towers. They set up a command station in an evacuated office building a few blocks away from ground zero. The first floor was solid concrete with no windows. The only light from outside came through two huge glass doors that connected the outside with the second set of huge glass doors on the inside, about 12 feet away. Bob remembered the large brass pull handles used to break the air seal of the outside doors and the vestibule. His supervisor pointed to desks to have everyone making calls, coordinating and assessing the unstable situation. It was during a call from the Division Special Agent in Charge (SAC) to Bob’s group that word came out that the Pentagon had been hit.
They all knew the United States were under attack.
While on the phone to the SAC, a horrific rumbling started. It was, according to Bob, like the sound of dominoes falling but a thousand times louder. Since they had no windows, they did not know what was going on. The SAC, however, did. He began to watch the towers buckle and fall. He screamed into the phone, “Bob, get everyone out of there!” but it was too late.
The debris of the falling towers filled the streets. The impact shut off the power and the office became dark like a tomb. Within a minute, the emergency generators came on with a dim light, yet the outside was as dark as midnight. Bob moved to the outside set of glass doors and began to open them slowly. The power of the outside air pulled the door open with incredible force and smoke, soot and debris rolled into the enclosed vestibule. It took three men to pull the door shut again. Bob knew there were people outside who were injured, but they could not see through the immense darkness.
There was a news crew with them, and Bob had an idea. He used the large TV camera with the powerful light to shine into the darkness. Bob positioned the camera light and while two agents pulled the doors open a few inches, he screamed, “Come to the light! Come to the light!” Within a few seconds, a bloody hand reached for his and they pulled a battered man inside. Then they pulled in several more people. This went on until the debris stopped falling, the smoke started dissipating and the sun broke through. They opened the door and walked through 12 inches of ash, climbed over crushed cement and began the search and rescue of the multitude of people.
Bob looked back at me through tears, almost as if he realized he was back in his office, and said, “All I could do was scream, ‘Come to the light!’ and they did.”
I believe there is no theological lesson better than the one Bob reminded me of that day at Quantico. It only took a little light in the darkness to begin to save so many from the rubble and ruin of that tragic moment. The Apostle John wrote of this darkness piercing principle, “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5 NIV). In the time of great darkness of falling towers, Bob found a light to use to lead others to safety. In a world that now seems to be covered with the darkness of fear, panic, and problems, God calls us to be His lights. (see Matthew 5:14-16).
Let me leave you with these great words from Al Denson. “Will you be the one to answer to His call? Will you stand when those around you fall? Will you be the one to take His light into a darkened world? Will you be the one? I will be the one!”
On this Sept. 11, be a light for our community. In doing so, you help fuel the lights of our faithful first responders who stand ready to be our light when the world grows suddenly dark.
If you would like to hear the whole story of Special Agent Robert Hilland, go to our website at chaplaincycare.org and look under the “September 11th” tab.
Dr. Daniel Middlebrooks is the Senior Chaplain of First Call Church and the CEO/President of Chaplaincy Care, Inc.