Survivors Stairs

These are the Survivors’ Stairs, preserved at the 9/11 Museum in New York City. (Photo by Doug Peterson)

Thirty-eight steps saved the life of Kayla Bergeron—and hundreds of other people.

Bergeron says she was working on the 68th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when two planes rammed the twin towers on September 11, 2001.

“We made our way down, floor by floor, through darkness and smoke,” Bergeron recalls in an audio tour available at the 9/11 Museum in New York City. “Then we felt the South Tower fall, and I was afraid our building would be next.”

Bergeron and others sprinted out of the North Tower and bolted down the Vesey Street stairs—a set of stairs that connected a raised outdoor plaza to the street below. Five minutes later, the North Tower collapsed.

In all, nearly 3,000 people died on 9/11, but those 38 stairs were a pathway of safety for many. My wife and I visited New York City back in May, and we had the honor of seeing those 38 stairs, which were preserved in the museum and are now known as “The Survivors’ Stairs.”

9/11 was a day of unspeakable tragedy, but it was also a day for great heroism. One of the guides at the museum was a woman who was in the North Tower on the day of the attack, and she told of a window washer named Jan Demczur, who found himself trapped between floors on a stalled elevator. Using the handle of his window washer’s squeegee, Demczur managed to pry open the elevator doors, freeing himself and a half dozen others.

But they faced yet another problem. Because the elevator had stalled between floors, a wall blocked any escape. Once again, Demczur relied on the squeegee handle, only this time he used it to chip his way through the drywall, creating an escape hole. Everyone on the elevator lived, thanks to Demczur and that simple little tool.

The squeegee handle is on display in the 9/11 Museum. So check it out if you ever visit this remarkable exhibition.

Sometimes, the most everyday things—a staircase or a window squeegee—can be used for remarkable things. The 9/11 Museum tells so many tragic stories that it was encouraging to see glimmers of hope amidst the rubble.

These everyday items also stand as symbols of survival and redemption. The Survivors’ Stairs, in particular, brought to my mind one of the most striking visions from the Old Testament. Genesis, chapter 28, tells how Jacob went to sleep and had a dream of a stairway reaching from earth to heaven, with angels ascending and descending.

Throughout the centuries, many have viewed this stairway as a foreshadowing of Christ, who became a stairway connecting earth and heaven.

You might say that Jesus is the ultimate Survivors’ Stairs. When the world is collapsing all around us, when death and destruction seems to be winning, Jesus is the Way out. As you make your way through the darkness and smoke, He is the Way to safety.

By Doug Peterson

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