I was at home, talking on the phone with UGA's Tom Jackson, who shouted that planes had hit the World Trade Center! It was the biggest story ever. I hung up the phone, wishing we had a television, and then turned on the radio to hear the disbelief and horror in people's voices.
Where we you? And what do you remember? Please share in the comments.
Here's what Nancy Bunker Bowen remembers:
That bright blue morning was crisp and full of promise. My mother and I would drive from our home in Athens to Clinton, South Carolina, to attend the Opening Convocation of our son’s senior year at Presbyterian College. What a glorious day it would be, full of celebration and optimism for the future!
Then came the news of the horrific attacks in New York and Washington and a pall of rage, confusion and disbelief descended over us. I was at first paralyzed by indecision–should I go? Should I stay home? Would my husband or younger son need me?
After my husband reassured me that both he and our son were fine, I realized our firstborn, away from his family in another state, might need reassurance, too. Or maybe I needed to be reassured myself. So, as we traveled east over strangely empty roads, it seemed everyone was huddled inside except the two of us.
We missed the convocation itself, but when we walked into the small student rental house on Carolina Avenue, we were met with the heartbreaking scene of three promising young men–dressed up in neckties and blazers, just returned from campus–sitting soundlessly on the rump-sprung sofa, their attention focused on the unthinkable events on television, their faces as stone-like as if they’d been carved of granite.
The three of them stood at once and came toward us, arms outstretched, eyes wide with dismay. Each one needed a long hug from a mother or a grandmother. Maybe they just needed some kind of familiar reassurance on a day when their bright future seemed so much darker.
Later, driving home over the very same roads we’d traveled earlier in eerie solitude, we were struck by the number of American flags and signs that had spontaneously sprung up on cars and fenceposts and gates and garages in the little towns of Calhoun Falls, Elberton, and Colbert. Their brave and defiant display at sunset on that once bright day reassured us that, yes, we’d be all right tomorrow.
From Chuck Toney
I wrote this a few years ago for a session devotional.
When the devotional list was circulated at my first session meeting in January, I looked forward to the opportunity. When I got the sign-up sheet, however, and scanned the available dates, I literally gasped when I saw 9/11. “No way,” I thought, and moved on down the list.
But I was in some way drawn back to that date and decided that confronting all that it connotes might somehow be therapeutic, even faith-enriching. And it has been.
I work in the Public Affairs office, and one of the advantages of that is that I have a television in my office, ostensibly for watching the news. Some time after 9 on the morning of September 11, 2001, one of my colleagues stuck her head in my office and asked if I had seen the news. “A plane hit the World Trade Center,” she said, so I turned on my TV and began a morning of horror.
I was 37 years old at the time, and I had never felt such abject hopelessness as I did during the course of that morning, as I moved from the fairly abstract feeling of disbelief that an airliner could somehow accidentally strike one of the towers to the inconceivable notion, once the second plane hit, that this was being done intentionally, that the people on the planes had to have known what was happening and endured unspeakable terror in the last minutes of their lives.
So I left the office shortly before noon and went to the school to pick up my boys.
I don’t know what I thought I could do if the country were really under attack. Were there more planes? Were there missiles? Were there terrorists on the ground? Was there a second wave of organized mass murder? Some part of my brain began calculating the likelihood that Malcom Bridge Road could be a target.
I was not alone – there were dozens and dozens of cars at school. I remember a woman in the car rider line next to me crying softly as we waited for our kids to come out, the tears streaming down her face. She stared out the windshield of her car and did not wipe the tears away.
As I began to think about how to approach this subject, I dug out my “Where to find it in the Bible” speechwriting reference book and looked for references to fear. While I do not believe that the Bible predicts modern-day events, I do believe that there a resonance in Biblical events that has meaning for us today. This is what I was looking for.
Psalm 55:4-5 – My heart is sore pained within me, and the terrors of death are fallen upon me. Fearfulness and trembling are come upon me, and horror hath overwhelmed me. That’s exactly how I felt that day, and it lasted. I remember that I was terrified a week or so later when I saw the first airplane in the sky high above me.
But that Psalm ends with a note of refuge: As for me, I will call upon God, and the Lord will save me. He hath delivered my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, and he shall hear my voice. Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee.
Follow the transition in that psalm – from terror and tears and horror and fear and trembling to turning to God and delivery. As I read it, I felt my own soul being comforted.
Isaiah 9:2 – The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death (sound familiar?) upon them hath the light shined. Again, God finds us in our deepest sorrow and most helpless state.
And, in the opening verses of Lamentations, the closest I can find to a prescient passage: How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people. How is she become as a widow. She weepeth sore and her tears are on her cheeks.
So, now I’m not feeling so good. But the “shadow of death” phrase in the passage from Isaiah led me to one of the most familiar passages in the Old Testament, a passage that is often associated with sorrow and mourning but which I have come to see, in the past few days, as a Psalm about life in Christ and the comfort and protection of our Lord and Savior.
You must understand that I was an English major, so I approach texts in a fairly analytical way. I like to understand the context, the history, the authorship, the geography, the social setting. (When Glenn preached about “The Davinci Code,” he said something to the effect that the Bible is a record of God’s perfect word as communicated through imperfect humans.) I found some commentaries on the 23rd Psalm, and I’d like to share some of what I learned with you as I close.
First, it may or may not have been written by David – the “house of the Lord” reference is seen by some as pointing to a temple built after David’s death. Some commentators see the Psalm as an analogy about a single day in the life of a shepherd and his sheep, while others see it as representing a full year, during which the flock moves from home to pasture to the water through the valley and up to the highlands of summer. (I prefer the year, as it speaks to me of the length of the faith journey.)
I was struck by the challenge of finding water in a desert land. I learned about sheep becoming “cast down” – literally on their backs, feet up in the air, unable to move until the shepherd turns them over and stays with them until they stop trembling.
I revisited the image of the “valley of the shadow of death”, and thought about how the streets of New York City look, in some ways, like valleys, especially when the towers collapsed and the debris rained down between the buildings nearby.
I thought at length about the irony of being comforted by a rod and staff, neither of which top my list of comfort items. I read that the shepherd’s rod was usually a stout club of up to three feet in length, and that the staff was tipped with flint or metal and used as a weapon to fight off wolves and other predators; but the shepherd also used it to guide the sheep and count them, keeping up with each one.
As helpless, powerless beings, though, we need the strength of God, and in a world that seems at times bent on destroying itself piece by piece, I am greatly comforted by knowing that my God has a rod and a staff ready when needed.
As I read and re-read the Psalm, in the context of my feelings five years ago and today, I was reminded of how completely the sheep are indebted to the shepherd. They are helpless – unable to help themselves, to find food or water, to fend off enemies – without the shepherd, as are we without Christ. But what I began to understand – and this is not easy for me – is that helplessness before God is a blessing. In that helpless state, our lives become about glorifying God, not man; about prayer and supplication, not seeking and questioning; about love of our fellow man, not retribution.
Will you pray with me? Father, Shepherd, helpless we come before you. We need your guidance, your direction, your provision, your protection. We will fear no evil – thy rod and thy staff, they comfort us. For that and blessings too numerous to count, we thank you.