God’s Inscrutible but Tender Mercies (TDTCTW 12)

Amanda (not her real name) was a regular at Windows on the World. A dark-haired, dark-eyed beauty, she had found life and its relationships to be confusing at best and frightening at worst. Windows on the World was a classy restaurant on the 107th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Floor to ceiling glass provided spectacular views of the city in all four directions. From more than 1300 feet up in the air cars, buses and taxis looked like tiny bugs making their way around a miniature city.

Amanda had three favorite views from the restaurant. The best view was to the east, where the East River bridges loomed in magnificent miniature over the water. The next best was to the north, where the Empire State and Chrysler buildings were pointed counterparts to the hundreds of giant, faceless boxes that make up the midtown Manhattan skyline. And the third view was to the southwest, where the Statue of Liberty was toylike in its tinyness, right in the middle of the bay that marked the outlet of the Hudson River. It was fascinating to watch the movements of boats on the water and helicopters through the air as they made their way to, from, and around the island on which the statue was placed.

The best time to enjoy these views was evening, as the sun went down. The blue sky gradually faded into varying shades of orange and pink. The sun would dip behind the distant landscape of the New Jersey shore. The sharp definition of bridges, buildings and traffic gradually faded into an awe inspiring backdrop of lights: from the red, white and blue glow on the top third of the Empire State Building, to the orange glow of sodium street lamps, to the bright whites of the offices where night owls toiled, keeping the finances of the world flowing in 24/7 continuity. New York City by night is like nowhere else on earth. And there was no better place to see those lights than from the unobstructed view on top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Tourists visiting the observation deck of the South Tower, on the other hand, had the North Tower’s bulk to contend with in their gaze toward midtown.

Amanda spent many an evening at Windows on the World, trying to center her life and cope with the pain of a difficult past. She describes herself as, “Not the most worthy person in town.” Over time the waiters and waitresses came to recognize her and adopted her as though she were one of the staff. They kept an eye on her, warding off the wrong kind of males. If she had had too much to drink as closing time approached, one or more waiters would escort her to the parking lot in the basement, drive her home, and make sure she made it into her apartment safely. The service staff at Windows on the World gradually became “family” to her.

Somewhat surprisingly, Amanda never brought a camera with her to the restaurant. She would describe the massive towers and the incredible views to far-flung family and acquaintances, but she never got around to actually collecting photos. After enduring repeated requests, she finally promised her mother that she would take some daytime pictures the week of September 10. When she heard that waiters were being called in for special preparations on the morning of September 11, she decided to take advantage of her relationships to get some early morning pictures out the restaurant windows. She agreed to be there at 8:30 AM, ten floors above and sixteen minutes before the impact of American Airlines Flight 11. She had no idea that a simple request from her mother was the equivalent of a death warrant. Of the 1432 civilians (not counting police, fire and other building personnel) who died in the North Tower, 1360 were in the upper part from the 92nd through the 110th floor.

On the morning of September 11 Amanda woke with a start at 8:40 AM. She was stunned when she looked at the clock, because she doesn’t normally oversleep. It was a beautiful, sunny day and she was amazed that she hadn’t stirred earlier. Feeling confused as to what to do, since she had already missed her appointment to get into the restaurant, she lay there a while trying to decide her next move. Fifteen minutes later her phone rang, it was a friend from New Jersey.

“Amanda, where are you, where are you?!?” a frantic voice shrilled.
“Where am I? I’m right here, where am I supposed to be?” Amanda felt even more confused, wondering what on earth was wrong with her friend.
“Where are you?!?” came the shrill voice once again.
“I’m right here, in my apartment, in fact I am lying in bed. Why do you want to know?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at the World Trade Center right now?”
“Yes, I overslept.”
“Thank God, thank God, thank God!” her friend began to sob, “I thought you were dead!”
“What do you mean, dead?” Amanda asked.
“Are you sure you’re actually in your apartment right now?”
“Of course I’m sure, what’s going on?” By now Amanda was starting to get a little upset with her friend.
“You don’t know what happened? You’d better turn on your TV. A plane just crashed into your restaurant.” (Actually a few floors below.)

Not really comprehending the impossible, Amanda staggered over to the TV, rubbing a throbbing head and brushing long black hair away from her face. She turned it on just in time to catch the image of the North Tower smoldering as United Airlines flight 175 exploded into the South Tower. As she realized that many of her friends were trapped above the flames in the North Tower she was seized by the same panic that had motivated her friend to call.

“I’m fine, I’m fine, but please hang up, I need to try and get through to the restaurant and see if everyone is OK.”

Her friend hung up and she dialed Windows on the World, but the phone was busy. She dialed another number she knew, but nothing happened. She looked up the cell phones of a couple waiters at the restaurant and called, but the calls didn’t go through. Seized with fear and pain she was transfixed by the images on the screen until one by one the two towers collapsed and her hopes collapsed with them. 23 waiters and waitresses that she knew by name and face never went home that day. It was as if she had lost her whole extended family in a moment.

Amanda has often wondered why she was spared that day, while so many of her friends were lost. She doesn’t think of herself as “the most worthy person.” She has done many things in life that she regrets. On the other hand, the staff of the restaurant was a caring group who treated her as a “worthy person” even though she didn’t feel she deserved such treatment. She told me that they had treated her better than she would have treated them if the roles had been reversed.

Nevertheless, Amanda truly believes that her sleeping in that day was an act of God. It was just not normal for her. She believes that God saved her on September 11 and that it was a call to a new level of commitment to God and to right living. But why her? Why did God go out of His way to preserve her life when so many “worthier” people lost their lives that day? What did that say about God? To be continued.

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