Wednesday, September 11, 2013

One Clear Tuesday Morning

It's crazy how every day passes, and a million moments fly by, and three days later, you have no idea what you were thinking or doing at such-and-such a time. It's not Alzheimers, it's just life.

And then, there are those moments that are seared into your memory with a branding iron, leaving permanent scars that will never fade. I don't like to use the word "scars" because my wedding day is one such moment, the birth of my children another. But it's true - I will never forget the moment my husband slid the ring on the  third finger of my left hand . . . and it got stuck because my knuckle was too wide. He was too embarrassed to try to keep shoving it on, so he just left it, and I had to finish pushing it on myself.

Or when each of my children was born. The first screaming wail of life as they pushed their way into the world was a heart-stopping moment, one that I will never un-remember. The rush of emotion, the joy of new life, the exhaustion after days of labor (four days, people, four days for our oldest) are written in indelible ink on my faulty memory pages.

Twelve years ago, at this very moment, I sat in the admissions office at Eastern Mennonite University in a back room where I had a work-study job, stuffing prospective student folders with information. The radio was on in the cubicle outside the door, and I remember thinking that was a little strange . . . we didn't usually have the radio on in the mornings.

I finished my package of folders and went out to get a tissue, and my boss turned around in her office chair. The look of pain on her face was one of the first bits of scar tissue that stamped itself on my memory from that terrible day. "Did you hear about that?" she asked, nodding toward the radio.

"No, what?"

"A plane just crashed into a tower in New York City." She sighed heavily. "All those poor people."

Little did we know.

I began filing some paperwork, and the reports on the radio grew more and more disturbing. Suddenly, work didn't seem so important. Suddenly, every person in the admissions office was standing around the radio. I glanced at my watch. My shift had ended. I grabbed my bag and ran to the nearest dorm where a TV was on in the lobby.

There are no words for what went through my mind as I saw the smoking tower. The first one had already fallen. The newscaster's voice was filled with heaviness as he narrated the events.

I remember he was in mid-sentence when the second tower collapsed in its own cloud of rubble. He just stopped talking, and the silence said more than words could have ever conveyed.

I only had one class that day. I dragged myself to it, but it was a pointless effort. No one could concentrate. No one could think of anything to say. We just stared at each other with pain mirrored in our eyes.

The chapel service that day was packed. On a normal day, seven or eight pews in the huge auditorium would have been filled. That morning, every row was filled, even the balcony. People stood in the aisles and along the walls. It's ironic, isn't it, that when we are confronted with death, with the end of life, suddenly God becomes a huge factor in our thought processes?

For the rest of the day, I sat in the campus center where a huge screen had been set up. I watched the news all day, allowing myself to suffer in spirit along with those who were suffering physically. I cried along with the ones on the ground in NYC. I felt as helpless as those who stood on the streets of NYC with shock written across their blackened faces.

Fifty years from now, if I live that long, these moments will still be seared on my consciousness. And each year, when September 11th rolls around, I'll revisit the pain. I'll once again ask God, why? Why? And once again, I'll gather the remnants of my faith about me, and slowly, but surely, allow God to stitch them back together.

Was God surprised? No.
Was God happy about it? Absolutely not.
Could God have stopped it? Yes.
Did He? No.
Did He cause it? No, no, no!
What did cause it? Sin.
Was He there the whole time? Oh, yes.
Did He hold the dying ones in His hands? Completely.

I don't pretend to understand. But I know this, God is good. Absolutely good. I may have moments of anger, confusion, frustration, other emotions that have no words, but my faith that God is bigger than this carries me through.

Today, I'm praying for the families that are one or two or three short a person because of that day. In the pain that this day brings, I pray that they will find the peace that comes from being in God's hands.


  1. I remember first hearing about it on the news when I was about 13 and had just got home from school (it was around 3pm BST), then watching events unfolding for most of the afternoon.

  2. Yes, I think the world stopped that day. It's one of those moments when you remember the exact thing you were doing when the news hit. My husband (before I knew him) was in Ireland for the semester. When he got the news, he said the phone lines home were completely jammed - he wasn't able to contact his family for hours. Nobody knew what was happening, and everyone was terrified.