My sister-in-law, Revonda Barwick, gave me this autographed copy of “Out of the Shadow of 9/11” last year. She had heard Christina Ray Stanton speak and knew I’d like her book. I’ve read it twice and both times was horrified, saddened, and very, very blessed. I know you would also be blessed by this account. It is told from a different angle than most you will have heard. It is a story of the transformation of this young couple who found a different life after 9/11.
Christina Ray Stanton was there. Not in the towers but very close by. She and her husband of only eighteen months lived in a high rise apartment building just six blocks from the World Trade Center. They slept late that morning in their apartment on the 24h floor. Christina remembers her husband, Brian, shaking her awake with the awful news that a bomb must have gone off in the North Tower. They both ran to their terrace directly facing the World Trade Center. She describes the smoke as so thick and black and reaching so high into the sky, it just couldn’t be real.
But it was real. From their terrace they watched, running back and forth to the living room to check the television news. It wasn’t a bomb, Katie Couric reported. It was a plane. A plane? How could a small plane have caused so much damage? About then Christina looked over her shoulder and saw a huge jet flying so low she could almost see passengers in the windows. It dodged between skyscrapers like a hawk, then aimed its nose at the South Tower. The impact threw Christina and Brian into their living room on their backs. When Christina first became aware she felt a heavy weight on her chest. It was their dog, Gaby, a Boston terrier shaking with fear.
This was the beginning of a long and treacherous journey for Christina and Brian and their dog, Gaby, as they walked and ran away from the towers seeking safety. She describes scenes of crowds of other terrified folks trying to escape, not knowing which way to go; the enormous number of sirens and flashing lights as first responders rushed to the scene; then the unbelievable horror when first one, then the other, tower imploded. Their clothes, hair, and skin were suddenly covered with a disgusting thick film of yellow dust. Everyone was covered–the trees, the buildings, and Gaby, too.
The two were stunned and sobered by the thought that they could easily have been in the World Trade Center that day. Brian was having frequent interviews seeking a job in the Financial District. He wanted to be rich and successful. Christina was auditioning every chance she got for a role in a Broadway play. In the meantime she worked as a tour guide for NYC. She could have been showing a group the World Trade Center, maybe even at the top. The fact that it could have been them made them face the reality of how fragile life is. Later they were to learn that one of Brian’s close friends, a fraternity brother from Clemson University, was in one of the towers that day and was killed.
Their escape route finally took them aboard a boat headed for the New Jersey shore. There they encountered stares and disbelief that anyone would be out walking barefoot in a flimsy gown with no bra. Some folks were positively rude as if the couple and their dog were aliens from Mars or had contracted a horrible disease. Others were unbelievably kind like the lady who realized their dire need and invited them up to her bathroom. They were finally able to use a borrowed cell phone from another kind person so they could let their families know they were safe.
Christina, who has trouble verbalizing the horrors of that day and ensuing homeless days, has now written a compelling account because, she says, We must never forget. She draws the reader to experience stark, breathtaking scenes as she remembers realizing she in her hurry hadn’t put her shoes on. She was dressed only in a flimsy nightgown with no bra, no identification, and no money. Brian had remembered his wallet and credit card and shoes with socks (Christina wore his socks for miles across railroad tracks and all.)
As bad as those first few days were, there was much more to come, both bad and good. There were some very kind people along the way. Christina’s friend Sarah took them in to her small apartment for several days. A perfect stranger who, having fled the city herself, allowed Brian and Christina to stay in her studio apartment rent free.
They finally were allowed back in their apartment and began the overwhelming job of cleaning up the thick dust and debris. There were even snippets of paper from World Trade Center offices blown into their living room through the terrace doors which, in their panic, they’d forgotten to close. For weeks the dust kept accumulating.
Other challenges included getting Gaby to a veterinarian because he wouldn’t eat, was throwing up, and scratching his eyes. That’s when they learned that one of the many components of the horrible dust was ground glass which had injured Gaby’s eyes and her stomach. And then there was the vet’s bill of $517.
Their budget was stretched to the max since now neither of them had a job. Against Brian’s wishes Christina sought help at the Redeemer, a Presbyterian church a friend of hers attended. That contact turned out to be God’s avenue for giving this couple, not just material help, but spiritual and mental help as well.
The weeks of PTSD and searching for jobs, were a learning process for which now Christina and Brian are grateful. They both now have jobs at Redeemer, Brian as a financial advisor, Christina as director of short term missions. Christina’s passion now, instead of aspiring to Broadway fame, is to lead and/or send missions teams around the world with the Good News.
In her epilogue Christina writes: “The lives Brian and I have built since 9/11 are in many ways like the memorial, which is beautiful and meaningful, even though it looks nothing like the towers it replaced.”