It’s hard to believe it was ten years ago already. Every now and then something happens that becomes a defining event for a generation. For mine it happened on that clear September morning ten years ago.
That day everything changed. And yet, looking back, it seems that not enough has really changed.
This is what I remember from that day.
An Ordinary Morning
That Tuesday started out as an ordinary day for me. I worked in the maritime industry down in Jacksonville, Florida back then and we had ships in port on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Because ship days were really long days for us we alternated who worked the ships. As it happened I was off that morning so I was just puttering around the house when one of Gorgeous’ girlfriends called breathlessly telling us we needed to turn on the TV.
Since that particular friend can be a little dramatic at times I poured another cup of coffee before I went into the living room to find the remote and click on one of the cable news stations.
My Full Attention
I was surprised to see the first tower of the World Trade Center burning. That got my attention. The announcers were talking about a plane crash, speculating that it must have been a private or something.
Having flown off of aircraft carriers in jets back in my Navy days I knew there was no way a little Cessna could have caused the damage I was seeing. Since I could see that there was a crystal clear bright blue sky there in New York I knew weather couldn’t be a factor. Visibility must have been unlimited that morning.
I mentally eliminated an airliner since commercial pilots are well trained. I didn’t see any way an airliner could have accidentally crashed into that building.
My thoughts were leaning in the direction of a large private jet. Did some depressed rich guy just find a horribly spectacular way to commit suicide?
Moment of Clarity
Then I saw the second plane hit and I instantly knew. This was no accident.
My brain constantly runs scenarios and play out permutations. It’s one of those quirks about me that I can’t ever turn off. My mind is constantly and very quickly running through combinations of consequences to their logical ends.
Even though I knew I hardly had any real facts, every scenario I ran through in the moments after that second impact ended up in with the same outcome: bad, bad, bad.
My Time in New York
As I was sitting there watching both towers burn I had a jumble of thoughts running through my brain. I knew it was bad news for everyone in the floors above the fires.
I grew up a few hours drive North of Manhattan and I went to college in the Bronx. During school there were many times when I’d get up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and take the 6 train (subway) down to lower Manhattan. There was something about walking around such a huge city with hardly any people around that I enjoyed.
Often the only sounds I’d hear would be the occasional car horn, the hum and swish of a street sweeper or two, and the cooing of pigeons which were everywhere.
It was peaceful and massive all at the same time.
Several times the observation deck of the World Trade Center would open before I left. When the weather was good I would often go up there to look out over the city.
These are the things I was remembering as I watched those towers that were so familiar to me burn.
When the first tower collapsed I was flabbergasted. Knowing how massive that building was I couldn’t imagine how many people I just saw die.
It all looked like something out of a Hollywood disaster movie instead of a live news broadcast. I sat there in stunned silence for a long time just staring at the television in disbelief.
Eventually it occurred to me that my coworker was also from New York, had graduated from the same school I did and still had family there. So I called him to see how he was doing.
He was worried about his brother who was a NYC police officer. He hadn’t been able to get a hold of him. Since our job was already high stress on a good day I told him I’d go in and relieve him.
He found out later that his brother was in detective school that day and they wouldn’t let them leave the building.
As I drove into work I thought about how much things were going to change because of what had just happened. People were afraid. Anytime people are afraid they seem to turn to God.
And they did. In the weeks and months afterward church attendance was much higher than it had been. Folks were looking for answers.
The next few days were strange and uneasy. Jacksonville is at the crossroads of several different jet airways. The sky down there is always crisscrossed with contrails. But for the next few days there were no contrails at all. It was weird.
Our nation has been in 2 long protracted wars as a result of that day.
Folks were defiant too. “We’re not going to let the terrorists win!”
Yet in a small way they have won. As a culture we’ve adapted to the extra security procedures that have been added to our air travel since that day. Each time I fly I can’t help but feeling that we’ll still be caught looking in the wrong direction the next time the terrorists strike us.
It’s like as a nation we are in complete denial as to who it is that wants to destroy us.
Of course I have to admit that if you had told me that day that we wouldn’t see another big attack like that for the next 10 years I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
And all that reminds me how thoroughly blessed by God we are. We have been blessed that there have been no successful attacks over the last 10 years. And that in spite of a few colossal blunders on our part.
We owe a huge debt of gratitude to those folks who are vigilantly protecting us in ways that we’ll never know about.
But we were also blessed on that day itself. As bad as it was, that day could have been much worse. The death toll on September 11th was far smaller than it could have been. None of the commercial flights was anywhere near capacity.
There were tens of thousands of people who worked in those towers. Yet many hadn’t gotten to their offices yet. And the great majority of those who were in the buildings managed to evacuate.
A large part of the section of the Pentagon that was hit was under renovation so there were fewer people in those offices than would have been otherwise.
United Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania rather than into some other building in DC.
I used to say, “I’d rather be lucky than good.” But these days I’ve changed that outlook some. Now I’d rather be blessed than skillful. Of course that’s a false choice though, isn’t it.
There is no reason why we can’t be blessed and skillful.
Jesus told us that there is an enemy coming against us whose sole focus is to steal, kill and destroy. The Bible also teaches us that we have a responsibility to resist that enemy.
I think former President Bush said it exactly right today:
9/11 showed us that evil is real. And so is courage.— President George W. Bush