Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
These days, Jeffrey P. Smith’s glass isn’t just half-full – it’s filled to the brim. Jeff, 32, was born in Sunman, Indiana. After spending several years in Chicago, he and his wife, Beth, a teacher, moved to Bloomington, Indiana, in 2001. Jeff is an implementation and project manager for a medical software company based in Washington. He works out of his home but frequently travels throughout the country. His interests include visiting with friends, playing and watching sports, movies, food, wine, playing poker with his family and music (“downloading MP3s is a favorite pastime.”).
On the morning of Sept. 11, Jeff was dropping his wife off at school when he heard the news on the radio. He rushed home, turned on the television and didn’t move for the rest of the day. He wrote his essay around the end of September. It is titled, “9.11.01, From Tragedy Springs Love, Eternal …” As he explains, “I have become a much happier person since Sept. 11. The tragedy has directly and indirectly changed my life in so many ways. I have found an inner peace and joy that I did not have before all of this happened. And now, I am even happier and more optimistic because I have a baby on the way! Life is very good for me. I hope anyone who reads this can find happiness for themselves as well.”
I was dropping Beth off at school. As she was about to get out of the car, we heard on the radio that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Neither of us thought much of it. “Probably a small commuter plane like that one that hit the White House a few years back.” Beth got out and I drove on, listening to the commentary on the radio. The person talking kept saying things like “… could be a problem with the air traffic control system. How could something like that happen?”
After arriving back home, I immediately went to the TV to check out what was going on. Immediately, I realized this situation was much worse than a small plane on a sightseeing tour losing control, but it was a huge passenger plane that collided into the side of this 110-story monolith. After about 15 minutes of watching the first tower smolder and listening to Katie and Matt tell me what I was watching, I witnessed the second plane strike the other tower. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. I was horrified. Speechless. Shocked.
I remained glued to that television for what seemed to be the next seven days.
Now, I am not a spiritual or religious man, but I could not help but find myself asking God, “How could this have happened” and “… please take care of those people involved.” I suppose God is the only person we can turn to in a time like this. A time when we are alone and in shock of what we have just witnessed.
After becoming almost completely numb by the media coverage I watched in the following days, I don’t remember feeling anything other than shock. I stopped asking God why this had happened. It even crossed my mind why I didn’t feel a tremendous amount of sorrow and pain for the victims and everyone involved. I felt completely calloused and uncaring. Regardless of this lack of compassion, I continued to watch all the media coverage (which I must say was phenomenal). Occasionally, I remember getting emotional when a reporter was interviewing a family member of someone that was missing. A lump in the throat and a tear or two down the cheek, but that was the extent of my feelings.
A week went by. I got back to work.
My job requires that I travel about 50 percent of the time. Fortunately, I was scheduled to be at a client site within driving distance to my home the following week. Thankfully, I did not have to fly!
Monday afternoon, I left for Muncie, IN. I was really looking forward to getting back out on the road to take my mind off of everything that had happened the previous week. Also, I was really looking forward to going to Muncie. I graduated from Ball State, which is in the heart of Muncie. I spent six years of my life there and had not been back for nearly five years, so I was really looking forward to the trip. Also, a very good friend of mine still lives there, and I had planned on stopping in to see her.
By this point, you are probably wondering what this has to do with how the tragedy has affected my life. I am about to get to that.
I met with my dear old friend, Heather, the Monday night I arrived. She invited me over to her house to visit with her and her beautiful son, Oliver. After catching up, chatting about old times, eating the pizza she had made, and drinking a few glasses of wine, we retired to her porch to chat and smoke a cigarette or two.
We proceeded to talk about everything! It was so nice to be hanging out with her and just simply talking about life, love, feelings, pain, suffering, longing, etc., etc. By the end of the evening, we started talking about spirituality and how this tragedy has affected us on that level. Well, as I said earlier, I am not a spiritual person despite the efforts of my parents and the devoted nuns at St. Nichols Catholic School where I spent the first eight years of my academic life. Like many of us, I had lost all sense of spirituality, belief in a higher power or the possibility of eternal life. I could no longer believe in God, and I simply did not believe I had a soul.
My dear friend listened to me as I explained my “fall from grace” and she told me about her beliefs and how she came to her conclusions about God, religion and her soul. She told me she had a couple of books that she wanted me to read. She then went on to say, “Smitty, when you go back to your hotel room, you should not turn on the TV but look through these books. You don’t have to start from the beginning, but just leaf through ’em and read anything that looks interesting to you.” Shortly after this, we said our goodbyes. We hugged and I left for the hotel.
Upon entering room 230 at the Holiday Inn Express, I did as Heather suggested. I did not turn on the “squawk box” but I lay down, opened up the book she recommended I start with, and began to read. I did not do exactly as my friend instructed, though; I started from page one. And I read and read and read (another thing I have not been very good at in my life. I usually fall asleep after about page two). Chapter 1…, 2…, 3…, 4… Each one I read through, often times, rereading certain passages as I went. Finally, I told myself I need to get some sleep so I don’t show up to work in the morning with huge bags under my eyes and wanting nothing more than to lay down in the corner and fall fast asleep. So, I set the book down and fell asleep. Smiling.
This book!!! It quite simply felt like my eyes were being pried wide open. All the unanswered questions that led to my losing faith/belief in God were suddenly answered. As if a floodlight were turned on in my spiritual conscience. Finally!!! I have been searching for a reason to believe again, and now, I hold it in my hands.
This may all sound a bit flaky to you but I cannot put it any other way. This book did so much more than restore my belief in a higher power; it has made me want to completely change how I live my life. I will now strive to show love and compassion for all things. I will concentrate on showing patience and understanding to everyone I encounter, especially when my beliefs differ from theirs. No longer will I be negative and hostile to others or to myself. I will stop to listen to my feelings, for that is God speaking to me.
It was all made perfectly clear to me. This glorious book, loaned to me by a friend, written by Neale Donald Walsch. I would like to recommend it to anyone who has unanswered questions or feelings of aloneness or just wants to know what it is that has moved me so greatly. The book is titled, “Conversations with God.” I hope anyone who reads this will take time to see if this book can have the effect on them that it has had on me. For I have found joy. I have realized that I have the power to control how I respond and interpret everything. I can choose my path. I can create my own happiness simply by filling my heart with love. It is all up to me.
I apologize if my writings sound “preachy.” That is probably the number one thing that I have been most turned off by about all religion. All I want for each of you is for you to find love and happiness. Now, we need it more than ever.
That leads me to my final thought: How did the WTC/Pentagon/ hijacker bombings affect me? How did it change my life? Well, I am not so sure the tragedy directly led to my finding happiness, but I know that it is because of the confused, lost state-of-mind it left me in, I started asking the questions I so long ago stopped asking. Most importantly, do I believe in God and why? If it were not for this tragedy and the tremendous loss of life that accompanied it, I very well could still be the negative, bitter, often loveless self I was for the past 20 years. Because of this tragedy, I was spiritually shaken to the core, and because I started asking the questions again, I have now found happiness in my life. I can feel love and joy in my heart. I can feel the connection to my spirit and to God.
In conclusion, I wish to express my sincere condolences to those families that lost loved ones in the tragedy. But, I take great joy in knowing that everyone who perished on September 11, 2001, is now in a much better place. They are filled with an all-knowing, unconditional love they never felt while in their physical form. They have gained complete enlightenment to all the mysteries of the world. There is no more fear or hate. There is only pure love and joy. Furthermore, if he or she wishes to return to earth because they did not get to complete their journey in their own terms, they will make that choice and start all over again. Experiencing, living. Searching for the joy they once knew after being totally enlightened upon death. Trying to remember what it was they left behind in heaven. For life is nothing more than remembering what we once knew before entering the physical world. To fill their hearts with love. A love they once knew but now wish to EXPERIENCE. It is the experience of life we strive for. It is one thing to know love but something much greater to experience it.
I hope everyone can once again experience love, happiness and joy after living through such a difficult period. Each of us has the power to create that happiness if we listen to our hearts. The difficult part of the process is just to stop and listen. I am slowly remembering how to do that. I have found love in my heart, and I know the lives that were lost had a large part to do with that discovery. For that, I am thankful. For that, I am filled with joy. Once again, I know what it is to have love in my heart. I remember …
GOD BLESS HUMANITY