Cheryl Velk

In solitude and togetherness, living the poetry and trying to put it into words.

9/11, 3:03 a.m. Island Time

Originally written September 11, 2019. I took one photo that morning, and this happened,

Magpies – two thieves. Half-blinded by the sun, I didn’t even see them. There was just this wild flutter in front of the lens and the burst of the sound of them taking off as I pressed the button. Jerking my eyes from the frame, I saw the two birds flying away. Then I glanced down at my camera and saw that one bird in the thumbnail looked sharply in focus. And my thoughts went to one late-summer morning on Johnston Island

It was 3:03 a.m. island time when I woke up out of a sound sleep, gasping in horror, my arms pushing my upper body a foot and a half straight up off of the bed. That had never happened before.

Disoriented and not understanding what woke me up, I looked at the clock. Times with repeating numbers always catch my attention, so the time stuck with me – 3:03 a.m

For the next few hours I couldn’t fall back asleep. Curled up in a fetal position, still filled with dread, I just kept repeating to myself and to God, “Something’s wrong. Something happened.” I’ve heard about people who inexplicably know when a twin or other family member has been hurt or is in danger, but this didn’t feel like immediate family. Not exactly.

At work by 6 a.m., there was a hushed vibe to the office – unusual, but I didn’t think too much about it, still too preoccupied by the confused grief I couldn’t shake.

After a bit, a friend came up to me in tears and said something like, “They’re down. They’re both down. I can’t believe it.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked, totally lost.

She told me then about the attack. I went upstairs to the training room where a TV was on, and in stunned silence I saw those first images, both in replays and real time. And then I saw the time stamp. Flight 175 had hit the second tower at 9:03 a.m. ET – 3:03 a.m. our time.

It takes more than science to explain what woke me up that night. Just like it takes more than science, politics, or culture to explain what happened that day and where our country and world are today.

I still wish I’d known how to pray more specifically in those hours while I was still in bed. Those minutes when the estimated 50 to 200 people either jumped or fell to their deaths (not counting those from the first tower who’d done the same). Those minutes when so many others were still trying to get to safety or beginning to understand there was no way out for them. I still wish I’d found more words than, “God, what’s happening, something’s wrong,” and had been able to do more than just hold some sort of vigil.

Sometimes I still struggle to form the right words to pray over all of us today. In these same minutes and hours there are still people in the world falling, or trying to get to safety, or not seeing any way out for themselves. Some days I still wish I could find more words than, “God, what’s happening, something’s wrong,” and be able to do more than just hold some sort of vigil.

But some days I do find the words. And some days I’m able to hear. Some days I’m able to love someone in a way they can feel. And some days I find a thing or two to do that makes a difference in some way. Most days it doesn’t feel like anywhere near enough, but some days even something little feels like everything. These small loaves and fishes – all I’ve got – that Jesus somehow does something with.

Grace and peace to you, friends. It’s you I’m praying for today. I’m praying for all of us.

Cheryl Velk is the author of the book Garden Songs: A Spiritual Formation Field Journal. Follow her on Instagram.

Categories: Johnston Atoll, prayer


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