Each year as the anniversary of the September 11th attacks of 2001 comes around, I experience flashbacks.
Among them is my frantic call to my daughter, who, as a college intern, was living in our ministry center just a stone’s throw from the Capitol. Reports said another hijacked plane was headed in her direction. I yelled to her, “Get out of the building! Get out of the city! Get in your car and drive east!”
There’s the image of the giant smoking cavity in the south façade of the Pentagon, the light poles scattered on the lawn, sheared off by the underbelly of the plane as it barreled into its target; the endless parade of trucks collecting pieces of the aircraft, chunks of debris, and human remains.
There’s my later walk to Ground Zero in New York to do my duty as a relief chaplain to first responders. In my mind I see our prayer circles and their earnestly clasped, brushburned hands and dust-laden clothing—their filthy facemasks and bloodied eyes from the airborne pulverized glass and gypsum.
Nothing stands out in memory more, though, than that Friday when I led a multi-denominational prayer procession of pastors to a grass-lined ridge just opposite the attack site at the Pentagon. As we walked, quietly praying, passers-by spontaneously joined with us. They seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere. We began as a group of eight clergy and soon had dozens of tourists, journalists, government workers, and emergency personnel in our wake. As we knelt to say the Lord’s Prayer, a middle-aged man beside me began sobbing. He later told me he was a reporter and that he hadn’t prayed since he was young boy.
September-the-eleventh is one of those super-charged moments in time when everything that is good meets everything that is evil. It is a consummately human moment when we see just how good—and just how bad—we can be. It’s a moment when humanity’s need for The Savior is not debatable.
The original 9/11 was very hard, very painful, very frightening, and very sad. Still, I’m glad I experienced it. The police officers, firefighters, construction workers, chaplains, and the myriad of ordinary volunteers that emerged in its aftermath became my heroes. The dead and the injured became my family. The rebuilding—literally and figuratively—became a sign of great hope and a reason for optimism in an otherwise troubled and pessimistic world.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –Jesus in John 16:33