Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where were you on 9-11?

As I write this, tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of 9-11. Where were you on 9-11? What do you remember saying or doing on 9-11? How did 9-11 change you, if at all?

When I first heard the news that American Airlines flight 11 had flown into the World Trader Center North Tower, I was driving a rental car through the suburbs of Maryland, about 25-min outside Washington DC.

Earlier that morning, I had flown into Baltimore, MD on a roundabout trip to a Foursquare Eastern District church conference in York, PA. I had planned on a day of sightseeing in Washington DC before making the drive up to York, PA for the opening session of my church conference later that evening. 

I remember calling my aunt on my cellphone to tell her that I was driving through her old neighborhood in Beltsville, Maryland. It was then that she informed me a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center. That was how I first learned about 9-11. I had been listening to a music cd, totally oblivious to what was happening in NYC and elsewhere. My immediate response was that it was a terrorist attack.

I would later learn that most observers including the media were slow to jump to the conclusion of a terrorist attack. However, at 9:03 am when United Flight 175 crashed into the face of the South Tower, it became obvious to everyone that these were terrorist acts and America was under siege. 

I was inside Washington DC city limits when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Without giving it much thought, I immediately turned around, got to the nearest on-ramp for I-95 heading east toward Baltimore. Traffic was light, but after 15 min. or so, I noticed an substantial increase in traffic headed east as many other drivers had the same idea. 

I drove up to York, PA. Along the way, stopping at rest areas, there was an errie silence from everyone you encountered -most seemed to be in some state of shock. While driving, I  spoke with my family who were concerned about my own well-being since they thought I was in Washington DC. My son, Josh, 17 at the time, was profoundly affected by the terrorist attacks. Two weeks later, Josh would inform us that he wanted to drop out of his senior year at Londonderry High and enlist in the Army. He would later be part of the initial invasion into Iraq which began on March 19, 2003.

When I arrived at the hotel in York, PA around 6pm that evening, I saw my first television coverage of the planes hitting the World Trade Center. It was almost unbelievable, almost like watching something out of a movie. What I had been listening to all day on the car radio, the reports and word pictures of what had transpired, I was now witnessing with my own eyes and it was unfathomable. It was hard to wrap your head around the idea that all of this had taken place in our nation that day.

Needless to say, our Eastern District Foursquare Pastor's conference was cancelled. We spent some of that evening in prayer for our nation, for the families of those who were on the planes, including United 93, the only plane which didn't reach its intended target and crashed in a farmland field in Shanksville, PA. We prayed for all those who lost loved ones in at the Trade Center as well as for those who were on each of the planes. Some of the prayers were uttered in broken words punctuated by tears.

The next morning, I drove back to Baltimore Airport. With all flights cancelled, I had to resort to Plan B, spending the entire morning at my car rental agency pleading with them to let me drive my rental car up to New Hampshire and do a drop-off in Manchester, NH. The car rental company (I don't remember which one) was in chaos, because every other airline passenger had the same idea. Fortunately, since I already had a car which I was dropping off a couple days early, I was ahead of the curve and they finally relented, charging me a nominal drop-off fee, and sending me on my way back to Londonderry, New Hampshire. At this point, all I wanted to do was get home.

Arriving back in Londonderry, NH, there were signs for asking people to pray for our country, flags on display (all this was atypical for Londonderry, NH because New Englanders are not all that demonstrative or religious). Everywhere you went, the World Trade Center attack was the only topic of conversation. Bonhoeffer said, "We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God."  Americans allowed God to interrupt their lives for the next 2-4 wks. That's about it. Church attendance in NH and elsewhere in New England saw an increase in numbers for the next two weeks. After that, it dropped back to "normal." I remember that in other parts of the country, church attendance increased for the next 4-8 wks after 9-11.

For me personally, 9-11 opened my eyes to the fact that we are in a real clash of cultures between Islam and Christianity. I went on to do some local TV interviews with a Muslim cleric in Manchester, NH. I began to pray for Muslims as never before. I also became less trusting of my government. I think that for myself and many others, it was a sobering realization that our government can't protect us all the time. We are more vulnerable than we might think. Certainly those Americans who boarded those 4 flights on 9-11 were not protected by our government agencies. Our government can only do so much. Whether we want to admit it or not, we really are in the hands of Almighty God.

"We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learnt the arts of equivocation and pretense; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being truthful and open; intolerable conflicts have worn us down and made us cynical. Are we still of any use? What we shall need is not geniuses, or cynics, or misanthropes, or clever tacticians, but plain, honest, and straightforward men..." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison).

Where were you on 9-11? Did 9-11 change you in any way? 

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