9/11: Ten Years Later
A collection of thoughts about 9/11, ten years later. I remember the silence. The silence before all hell broke loose. The drive into work on the morning of September 11 had been silent. I can’t remember why my wife and I weren’t talking, but we weren’t as our car weaved through the backroads of northwest Arkansas. We had some sort of argument that morning, and being newlyweds, for two months, we didn’t exactly have the best communication skills at this point. So it was silent as we drove to work. You would have thought I would have turned the radio on to drown out the silence, but I didn’t.
We pulled up to the ministry we worked at and proceeded to walk in. On our way in a coworker, Rachel, told us that two planes had flown into the Twin Towers. I don’t think I had a response because it seemed so ridiculous and Rachel’s demeanor wasn’t exactly animated when she told Jana and me. Hadn’t the Twin Towers been attacked before? I don’t remember a big deal about it then.
We headed up to our offices, and on the way passed the auditorium. Every one was in there transfixed to the television screens. Silence. We stepped in and began to understand the gravity of the situation. No one said anything. It seemed impossible to be under attack. Then word came in the Pentagon had been attacked. America was on fire.
I went to my office and tried to get online to find out more. That was pointless because the internet was at a standstill with everyone seemingly online at the same time. At some point I started thinking through people I knew who might be in New York, but none came to mind.
It still didn’t seem real. I went back to watching television. I’m not sure how many times I watched the replays of the planes going into the towers, but each time I watched it still didn’t seem real. I was watching when the first tower fell. Even as I watched it live it didn’t seem it was happening. I don’t think the commentators on television even could believe it as the building collapsed upon itself. How many thousands were dead? How long till the next building collapsed? And finally, who did this and how can we get our vengeance upon them?
The rest of the morning seems muddled. Lots of questions and conversations with coworkers and friends. Fears started to rise. One thing that is speculated is gas shortages. Some of us go out to fill up on gas. My wife tops off our car and I ride with someone else, Mike, because we were going to get lunch for some of us. On the way to gas station I remember looking up at the sky. It was clear, blue, the antithesis of the horror being played out on the television. The song “Beautiful Day” by U2 came to mind as I just stared up at the sky and wondered and tried to comprehend what was going in the world.
We get to the gas station and already there are lines forming for fuel. Is this what lays ahead? Mike has his radio dial tuned to the Rush Limbaugh show. Rush was on vacation but calls in to talk to the show. The news trickles in more and more that this guy, Osama Bin Laden, is behind it all. People are also wondering where the President is. Reports come in that he is in Omaha, for the time being, and I think of home.
The rest of the day? More questions, a burgeoning rage, a thirst for information on everything relating to the attacks. Jana and I go to Mike’s house to watch the President address the nation (world). A blur. We go home and I just camp out in front of the television. I eat and fall asleep in front of it. I still can’t get enough. I still don’t think it can be happening. In the middle of the night I wake up with the tv on and see footage of the first plane hitting the tower. That is even crazier to see because before all the footage was showing the second plane hitting when already one tower is ablaze. This footage just shows New York before being set aflame.
The next few days? News, news, and more news. I think it was two days later after watching ABC pretty much non-stop that I saw my first tv commercial again. I remember the feeling was eerie. Was life going to slowly revert to normalcy?
I guess normalcy is flexible in how you define it. As people moved on with their lives this event would put everything into a new perspective. I found myself looking back on my life, though, and wondering what might have been different had this attack occurred years earlier.
I remember the summer of 2000. I led a missionary team to northern Nigeria. The area we were in was predominantly Muslim and advocating Sharia Law, which in summary is Muslim law is the law of the land. I was twenty-four years old. When I had traveled and done my missions work around the world I always felt safe because I was American. I didn’t think anyone would mess with me, despite my missionary work.
After being in Nigeria for awhile I began to hear reports that the local imams were threatening our team. Everyone in the area knew I was leading the team. Even though we were not publicly discussing our Christian nature with our work, I think it was obvious to everyone around us who we were. The threats coming from the local imams only infused me to be bolder in my faith, to hold my ground, to not be intimidated by their bluster.
The day before we left the area I headed to one of the main streets. It was a street with mosques on either side. It was mid-afternoon when I headed there. I went to the east end of the street. The locals were preparing for another session of prayer. At least a thousand people on the street lined the mosques, and other open areas, readying themselves for prayer. They paid no attention to the young Christian leader walking down the street.
The call to prayer started. In a choreographed instant everyone fell to their knees and started praying. The street was empty, except for me, and I started to walk west. As they prayed I wanted them to see me walking toward them, with my back facing the east. The imams who preached, some of whom had threatened me, would not intimidate me. As I continued to walk down the street during the prayer I could occasionally see people steal a glance at me. It was never a glance of malice, but it seemed out of curiosity. Head held high I walked on throughout the prayer. I saw it as worship to Jesus, that amidst the worship of Allah I could take a public stand for Christ.
That day seems more and more poignant. I wonder now if I would do a similar act of worship. I would take the threats of the imams more seriously than before. The team I would be leading would not want any part of potential violence. Being married, and a father now, I would consider the ramifications of such an act with meticulous consideration. What is worship and what is foolhardy? Would I walk down that street? Let’s say I wasn’t married, I had no considerations to concern myself of. It’s a year after 9/11 and I’m on the east end of that street in northern Nigeria. The mid-afternoon call to prayer starts. Would you hear my feet walking upon the streets, or would you hear silence?
I remember looking into joining the National Guard, out of a patriotic sense of duty, but end up not doing so because I am newly married.
I remember an individual pretending to be a naval sailor, wearing the uniform in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. He would get sympathy from people whenever he went about in public. I was dumbstruck by his act and didn't call him on it. I regret that.
I remember not wanting the Yankees to win the World Series. I was one of the few that didn't care what the easy media narrative was for the World Series, I wanted the Diamondbacks to win.
I remember the crash of American Airlines Flight 857 and initially wondering if this is what life was going to be like from now on.
I remember a fireman I knew making light of the NYPD. He was telling people how so many firefighters died on 9/11 because they were brave. I found the whole conversation odd.
I remember someone I knew going with a "towelhead" blast when speaking about Muslims and national security. Myself, and a few others who heard it, were visibly uncomfortable with the remark and responded to the individual about it. The individual backtracked, but did not apologize. An awkward moment that led to the decline of my friendship with them.
I remember my first flight after 9/11, in February 2002, to Beijing, China. All of us on the trip talked about 9/11 and the thoughts and feelings we were dealing with as we flew. I wasn't scared, but I was aware of everything going on as I went through security and as the plane began its journey.
I remember watching the film United 93. I wanted to see it, but I didn't want to see it with anyone. I wasn't sure how I'd respond to it, and I didn't want anyone around to affect how I might respond to it. Jana was visiting her family, so I rented it. Powerful. Heart-breaking. I have never cried so much in response to a film. One of the best films I've ever seen. I'm proud to be an American.
I remember watching a Tom Brokaw piece about the Canadian city of Gander. This city of 10,000 people opened its arms to 6,600 displaced travelers on 9/11. I'm moved by the city's generosity and service. I tell myself I'd like to visit Gander someday.
I remember reading the tweet that Osama bin Laden was dead. And just like on 9/11, I go to the tv and camp out in front of it. I can't get enough news. I'm browsing the web and conversing on Twitter. The catharsis I experience is unexpected. Was it the end of terrorism? Of course not. Still, I can understand why a number of people were overjoyed at the news of his death.
I remember a lot. Random events.
I think about the world I will raise my family in now, contrasted with the world I grew up in as a kid.
I think about how I will explain 9/11 to my boys.
I pray. I pray a lot for peace, for our leaders, for Jesus' love and truth to be known.
I hope. I don't want to be defeated.