It happened fifteen years ago. Doesn’t seem that long ago, maybe because every year at this time there is so much attention given to remember the worst occurrence of terrorism within our borders. And so we must. The horror of the event and its aftermath is seared into our national psyche.
September 11, 2001. Everyone can tell you where they were and what they were doing when they heard about it. Just like our now very senior citizens can talk about huddling up next to a radio broadcasting the shocking news that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. President Roosevelt just a few hours later would forever label that day, December 7, 1941 as the Day of Infamy. My generation can remember where they were when they heard that JFK had been shot, and then to an on-edge nation pronounced dead in Dallas at 1pm on November 22, 1963. We were glued to our black and white TV sets for days, watching and grieving as a painful episode of history unfolded live from Love Field to Arlington Cemetery.
I watched the towers burn and fall on a small TV at work. I kept saying, “This can’t be happening. This isn’t real. It’s like a computer-generated special effects scene from a Spielberg movie.”
As that morning went on I couldn’t help but wonder, “Are we done now? What’s next? The Sears Tower? Hoover Dam? An A-Bomb detonating at the Strategic Command Center at Offutt Air Force Base, only a few miles from my neighborhood?” That’s where President Bush was headed on Air Force One, to weather any further threats deep underground. I thought maybe tonight I should revive and recite the faith of my childhood prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake . . .”
Every year at this anniversary time I tell myself I’m not going to watch any of those documentaries. No more film footage of planes hitting buildings, over and over, in slow motion. No more faces of terror and disbelief, ash covered first responders, exhausted, gasping for breath. And that unforgettable, ugly pyroclastic cloud of dust and debris chasing countless panicking New Yorkers down the streets and avenues of our nation’s premiere city. But this week, I did watch, mostly on the History Channel. I still get pretty choked up, even sick. I can’t bear to see those poor souls hanging out of windows, waving for help, then leap to their deaths; anonymous faces now referred to simply as “Jumpers.” I even had the nerve to view some posts on YouTube, where you can find dozens of opinions by conspiracy theorists with elaborate “proof” that what our government says happened wasn’t really the truth.
Regardless of what you choose to believe about the incredible circumstances of that fateful day and who was responsible, it did happen. I think you can be sure of this, however, that hundreds of men and women were just settling in at their desks, sipping coffee, starting their computers when all hell was unleashed beneath or above them, and certainly not what they expected to experience that morning when they shut off the alarm clock. Another several hundred or so were expecting to land safely at their destinations, to spend their time visiting relatives or friends, or to get on with the business schedule for the day. But flights and lives were abruptly rerouted to Shanksville and the Pentagon.
There are probably as many lessons to be learned from the events of 9/11 as there are people who have been touched by the tragedy – our lifetime’s day of infamy. To me it affirms what the Bible says in James 4:14: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In other words, life is fragile. But we tend to see the end as far away, and I’m sure most victims of 9/11 felt that way. Sadly, I’ll bet many hugs and kisses were deferred for a later time, which was never to be. Psalm 103:15 says, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone.” So today while you are mowing the lawn, catching up on the laundry, watching football, grocery shopping, or even working at a job, stop everything and say “I love you” to that person you know who needs to hear it the most. Let’s remember to cherish the minutes we have, even if they are difficult, because in an instant, everything can change. And usually it does.