On the Eve of 9-11: a Photographic Negative

Just Thinking….

It’s a cool, rainy, dark fall day here in Iowa: the sort of day where I want to don my favorite soft old sweatshirt and put on fuzzy socks and cozy up with a throw in front of the fireplace. I’d like a hot cup of tea and just sit and listen to the flames crackle. Nine years ago, I listened to something completely different.

Nine years ago, I lived in a naive world of trust. It wasn’t cool and rainy; I distinctly remember that it was warm and clear on that day. My little Tracker was in the shop, and the shop had loaned me a behemoth, a white Moby-Dick of a SUV. I hated it, and couldn’t wait to turn it in and get my little red car back. I was to return it on Sept. 11, but I had to wait until after school to do so. And I had to return it with the tank filled.

As with many defining moments in my life, I was in school when I heard the news. Hearken back to 1963: JFK was assassinated. I was a freshman at Albia Community High School, in Spanish Class. I sat in the third row back, second seat from the window. A girl had gone to the cafeteria to get a carton of milk for her ulcer. She came back (after hearing about JFK on the cafeteria radio), telling us that the President had been shot. I didn’t think that was very funny. She insisted it was true. Then the intercom came on: the President had been shot. He was dead. We were 14, maybe 15 years old. Things like this didn’t happen in our world. I didn’t cry; I was too stunned. But my teacher was crying. And later, my father, who also never cried, was crying.

A few years later, hearken back to the Challenger explosion. I was again in school, this time as a teacher. My room was bright yellow; the Channel I TV hung from the center of the front wall. We were again informed en masse of a national disaster, only this time we watched the white vapor trail on TV over and over and over…. I cried in front of my students and remembered my little Spanish teacher from those long ago years.

Then came the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, OK. Where was I? In school…. This time I was in the cafeteria, and the radio there was announcing the news. We were all sure that a terrorist had done this dastardly deed. Indeed, it was a terrorist, but sadly, one of our own. We have met the enemy and he is us.

So perhaps I should have been hardened and ready for something like 9-11. But I wasn’t. I lived in an America of friends, neighborhoods, good people. I liked everyone else; surely they all liked me. Naive…. Once again, I was in school. This time it was journalism class: yearbook. Phil, a student, was in the library watching news headlines and getting ready to jot them down for the news section of yearbook. He came running back to the computer room saying that a plane had crashed into the Twin Towers. I visualized a little two seater private plane, and felt sorry for the damage that it must have done. And I told Phil to return to his job. He ran back again, saying that a second plane had hit the towers. That caught my attention. We all went into the library, gawking at the TV, caught in a sci-fi moment of wonder and disbelief. Students and teachers alike were crying; one girl was hysterical as her uncle was supposed to be on that plane. The intercom crackled and announced the horror: we were under attack. But school was going to go on. What!?! I just wanted to rush home and hug my husband and call my son and say I love you. But the principal explained that we would not give in to the terrorists; we would continue our school day. And we would also have parent teacher meetings that night. I think I walked about in a stupor the rest of the day. When the bell rang, I left school to return the SUV. When I reached the gas station, it was chaos. The line stretched out for blocks. Not only were vehicles lined up to get gas, but people were also standing in line, holding gas cans. When I finally inched the SUV to the pumps, I was shocked to see that gas was suddenly $5 a gallon! But I had no choice…….. I returned the SUV, grabbed a sandwich for supper, and returned to school for parent teacher meetings. I was probably incoherent by that time, wanting nothing more than to be home. And when I reached home much later that night, I fell into my husband’s arms, crying.

The scenario was a jolt, true. But it was so much more. It was an end of my innocence, an end to a way of trusting life. An end to carefree travel. I began to distrust anyone who looked like they could be profiled as mid-east terrorist. I began to feel emotionally crippled. The world had changed in a moment.

I remember the discussions at school. Did America ask for this tragedy? Did we somehow bring it upon ourselves? Was God punishing us for something? I don’t know the answers. I do know that in a way, we brought it upon ourselves as we simply did not prepare as a nation for events like this. We were much too nice…. much too trusting…. much too innocent. There were warnings, to be sure, but as a nation, we overlooked them; it wasn’t our way of life.

Nine years later….. I’m sitting in my comfortable home, listening to the rain, savoring the moment. But I continue to remember these defining moments of my life. The sudden shock of each is like a photographic negative: a burning of a scene upon my memory. Ask people my age where they were when JFK was killed. They can tell you exactly where they were. Ask people now where they were on 9-11. Most can tell you exactly where they were, or who told them the news. It is seared into our minds. And it has changed us.

Father, we have experienced tragedies for centuries. People then, like people now, don’t understand why. Your Word gives testimony to Your faithfulness, Your protection of Your people. I don’t understand why all this had to happen. And I can’t foretell the future. I can only ask for Your mercy, Your grace, Your protection to follow me, all the days of my life. Be my Shepherd. Carry me to the end. Amen

To God be the Glory….

Published in: on September 10, 2010 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

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