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What a Difference a Day Makes, Ten Years Later
By JAMES W. MOORE
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2011 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
When You Are Under Attack
September 11, 2001, is a date that we will remember for the rest of our lives. It is ironic, eerie, and sad that the way we write that date numerically is 9/11. On that Tuesday morning, our nation and our world took a blow to the heart as terrorists hijacked U.S. commercial jetliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
It was a ruthless, vicious, hateful, fiery, coordinated attack—one that stunned our nation, shocked our world, and killed thousands of innocent civilians. The news was so horrendous that the Houston Chronicle used two large headlines to trumpet the lead story: "ASSAULT ON AMERICA" and "TERROR HITS HOME."
Here's how it happened:
At 8:45 A.M. (EST), American Airlines Flight 11, carrying ninety-two people from Boston to Los Angeles, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
At 9:03 A.M., United Airlines Flight 175, carrying sixty-five people from Boston to Los Angeles, crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
At 9:30 A.M., President Bush called the crashes "apparent terrorist attacks on our country."
At 9:40 A.M., for the first time in our nation's history, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flight operations. All inbound international flights were diverted to Canada.
At 9:43 A.M., American Airlines Flight 77, carrying sixty-four people from Washington to Los Angeles, crashed into the Pentagon. Trading on Wall Street was called off.
At 9:45 A.M., the Capitol and the West Wing of the White House were evacuated.
At 10:05 A.M., the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
At 10:28 A.M., with most of the world watching on television by this time, the World Trade Center's north tower collapsed.
At 10:48 A.M., officials confirmed that United Airlines Flight 93, flying to San Francisco from Newark, New Jersey, had crashed eighty miles southeast of Pittsburgh.
Throughout the morning and later in the day, government buildings around the country were evacuated. The United Nations closed. Financial markets were closed. Except for rescue workers, lower Manhattan was evacuated.
At 5:20 P.M., World Trade Center Building number 7 collapsed.
And at 8:30 P.M., the President of the United States addressed the nation.
When we live through an experience like that, certain dramatic images are branded into our memories forever, images of horror and heroism.
The image of those planes slamming into those buildings—we'll never forget that.
The image of those buildings coming down like they had been imploded, and our knowing what that meant—we'll never forget that.
The image of people frantically running away from the buildings while rescue workers and firefighters and police officers and chaplains were running into the buildings to try to save lives. And as we now know, many of those brave officials lost their own lives in the process. We'll never forget that. And then there is the image of search dogs looking for signs of life in the rubble. When they found good news, they barked and wagged their tails; when they found news that was not good, they moaned and cried.
We'll never forget the image of people rushing to blood centers all over the country and standing in line for three to five hours to give blood; the image of families gathering in homes, waiting and waiting for some word about the fate of their loved ones who were in harm's way that Tuesday morning; and the image of courageous people using cell phones from the backs of hijacked planes and from the top stories of burning buildings to call their loved ones to say, "I may not make it out of here, so I want to tell you I love you."
There is the image of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, with the British band playing our national anthem rather than theirs, the image of people from nations all across the world bringing flowers to our embassies and participating in candlelight vigils, and the image of American flags flying everywhere, showing the world that we will stick together as a nation.
And of course, the image of people all over America making their way to their churches to kneel at the altar and pray—we will never forget that.
These graphic images reminded us—and will continue to remind us—how we all felt under attack. As we think about the people in those buildings and on those airplanes, as well as their loved ones, their pain becomes our pain, because after all is said and done, we in this nation are a family.
Leonard Pitts Jr., in his column in the Miami Herald, wrote these words the day after the attack:
What lesson did you hope to teach us ...?
Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together....
We are a vast and quarrelsome family ... but a family nonetheless.... We are fundamentally decent ... peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are, the overwhelming majority of us, people of faith, believers in a just and loving God....
Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals....
Yes, we're in pain now.... We'll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined.
When President George W. Bush addressed the nation on the evening of September 11, he wisely quoted verses from Psalm 23, including these words: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I [will] fear no evil, for you are with me" (v. 4 NIV). That is the good news of our faith—that God promises to be with us always and that nothing can separate us from God and his love.
The apostle Paul, writing to the church at Rome, said much the same thing. He wrote, "So what are we going to say about these things? ... Nothing can separate us from God's love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created" (Romans 8:31, 38-39).
That is what we as Christian people hold on to right now. That's the promise we wrap our arms around now. That's the promise we stand upon now—the promise of God to be with us always, come what may, to walk with us through the hard valleys of life, and to bring us to the mountaintop on the other side. So when we are under attack as individuals, as a church family, or as a nation, that's what we do. We keep walking forward, one day at a time, knowing that God will always be with us, and God will see us through.
Now, let me be more specific with three thoughts.
First of All, Because God Is with Us, We Walk in Faith, Not Fear
That Tuesday morning, as I sat at my desk and watched the television news unfold this horrible, tragic nightmare that set our world reeling and broke our hearts, all kinds of questions flooded my mind:
Why did this happen?
How could this happen?
Who could do a thing like this?
What does this mean?
Who is responsible?
How do we respond?
How can we help?
All these questions were tugging at my heart when suddenly my mind darted back to a poignant story of courage. It was the story of a young man whose wife had died, leaving him with a small son. Home from the cemetery on the day of her funeral, they went to bed as soon as darkness came because there was nothing else that man could think of that he could bear to do. As the young man lay in the darkness, brokenhearted, grief-stricken, numb with sorrow, the little boy broke the stillness from his bed with a heart-wrenching question: "Daddy, where is Mommy? When is she coming back?"
The father tried to get the boy to go to sleep, but the questions kept coming from his confused child's mind. After a while, the father brought the little boy to bed with him. But the child was still disturbed and restless, and the probing, painful questions kept coming. Finally, the little boy reached out his hand through the darkness and placed it on his father's face, asking, "Daddy, is your face toward me?" Assured verbally and by his own touch that his father's face was indeed toward him, the little boy said, "Daddy, if your face is toward me, I think I can go to sleep." And in a little while, he was quiet.
The father lay in the darkness, and then he, with childlike faith, lifted up his own needy heart to his Father in heaven and prayed something like this: "O God, the way is dark right now, and I confess that I don't see my way through; but if your face is toward me, somehow I think I can make it."
This is our faith, isn't it? God is with us. His face is toward us, and his presence supports us when we have nowhere else to turn. As the American author and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."
That's number one: Because God is with us, we walk in faith, not fear.
Second, Because God Is with Us, We Walk in Hope, Not Despair
Late in the evening a few days after September 11, I was watching television. Someone was interviewing a young man who had survived the World Trade Center attack. He had worked in the south tower. He told of someone coming to his floor of the building and shouting, "Something bad has happened in the north tower! Everybody out! Get out as fast as you can!"
He started down the stairs. As he reached the lower floors, the second plane rammed into his building. The young man was knocked to the floor, all the lights went out, and there was smoke.
He had no idea what had happened, but he knew he needed to get out of there. However, in the darkness, he became confused, disoriented, and terrified. He was holding on to the wall in the blackness.
Suddenly he felt a hand on his shoulder. It was a policeman. The policeman said, "Follow me. I know the way out." And the policeman took his hand and led him to safety. In the interview, the young man said, "You can't imagine the incredible relief I felt when that policeman said, 'Follow me. I know the way out.'"
This is what the Christian gospel says to us: "Here is One who knows the way out—the way to safety and life. Here is One who can save you, and that is our hope." Because God is with us, we walk in faith, not fear, and we walk in hope, not despair.
Third and Finally, Because God Is with Us, We Walk in Love, Not Hate
Everything about the September 11 attack was horrendous. The most despicable aspect of that evil assault was that it was a heartless surprise attack on innocent people, a hateful, cruel attack
on innocent civilians who were going about their daily routines with no place to take cover and no way to defend themselves. We were outraged by this hateful act, and our hearts cried out for justice; indeed, the leaders of our nation and our world began working together immediately to this end.
When people join together and commit a terrible crime, what do we do? We find those people and deal with them in such a way that they cannot strike again. That is justice. Our God is a God of justice and love. God wants us to be a people of justice and love. So we must resist the temptation to stereotype and label whole nations, peoples, and religions as guilty, because when we do that, we make the same mistake—morally speaking—as those who attacked us on September 11. They attacked us because somebody had carefully taught them to hate.
At noon on the Friday after the attacks, our church congregation gathered in the sanctuary for the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. I asked them to walk through the hard valley lying before us while holding on to two symbols—the eagle and the cross. Our nation chose the eagle as its symbol because it is the only bird not afraid of the storm. The cross is the great symbol of our Christian faith because it reminds us of the power of love, and it reminds us of God's victory over sin and evil and death.
That is why we can be courageous. That is why we need not be afraid. That is why we can face the troubles of the world with strength and confidence and with trust in God. Because God speaks not from an easy chair, but from a cross—as One who suffered and endured the worst the world can dish out and was victorious over it! That's what the cross means: God wins! God's goodness cannot be defeated. God's truth cannot be silenced. God's love cannot be overcome. It is stronger than hate.
That's the good news: Ultimately God wins, and he wants to share the victory with us. So, because God is with us, we go forward. Because God is with us, we walk in faith, not fear. We walk in hope, not despair. We walk in love, not hate.CHAPTER 2
"Good Religion, Bad Religion": How Do You Tell the Difference?
I received a powerful e-mail message from a friend of mine, Jim, who is a lawyer. He was writing to say that our worship service on the Sunday after the September 11 attacks was one of the most helpful and meaningful services he had ever attended. There were two reasons for that. First, it was a service that had touched his heart profoundly as we in our church family supported one another in the painful aftermath of the previous week's events. Second, the service was powerful to him uniquely because of where he was on the morning of September 11.
He and three friends were in a business meeting in a company dining room on the sixty-sixth floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. Jim was sitting on the side of the table that faced the window. Suddenly he saw an American Airlines jetliner coming toward the building. He said to his friend, "That plane is flying way too low." Everybody turned to look, and they saw the wings rocking back and forth. The pilot appeared to be struggling to get control of it. Someone said, "That plane is going to crash!"
The plane passed by about fifteen or twenty stories above them and went out of view, and then there was a tremendous explosion that shook the room. Jim and his friends ran to the window, and they saw debris raining down—an unbelievable shower of debris. As they looked up, they could see that the north tower of the World Trade Center was on fire.
At this point, Jim and his friends didn't know precisely what had happened, but they knew they needed to get out. They told everyone they saw to evacuate, and then they took the elevator down to the forty-fourth floor. There, they discovered that the express elevators to the lobby were not operating, so they rushed to the stairs and started walking down.
Making his way down, Jim called his wife on his cell phone to tell her that he was okay but that a plane had collided with a building. She was watching the story on television and explained to Jim what had happened. She said, "They are saying that a small private plane crashed into the north tower." "No," Jim said. "It was a commercial jetliner—a big plane. I saw it."
More and more people were rushing into the stairwell now. When Jim and his friends reached the thirty-fourth floor, suddenly the building rocked violently. Jim said he couldn't imagine what would cause a building that large to rock like that. He wondered if it could have been an exploding fuel tank from the plane that had hit the north tower.
As they moved further down the stairs, they saw people who had been injured. Coworkers and rescue workers were helping them. Finally, they got to the lobby. There was a lot of smoke, and a lot of debris had piled up on the plaza outside.
Police officers and security officers were there, directing people not to go out, but to go down through the subway station. Jim and the others went below and moved across the train platform to a set of stairs that led above ground a block or so north of the World Trade Center. People were moving up and out intentionally, as quickly as they could, but no one panicked.
When Jim and his colleagues came up to street level, the area where they surfaced was jammed with people. They all were looking up at the burning buildings. That was the first time Jim and his friends saw the gaping hole in the north tower and the fire blazing out of the south tower not too far from where they had been meeting only thirty or so minutes before. More—much more—had happened than they had realized.
Jim used his cell phone again. He called his wife to tell her that he was out and okay. She told him about the second plane. Along with the rest of the nation and our world, Jim was shocked, stunned, and heartsick.
Police were shouting to people now, telling them to go north. In the pandemonium, Jim and his friends were separated. Jim found an off-duty cab driver and convinced him to take him and some others uptown. While driving, the cab driver had his radio on. They heard about a third plane that had hit the Pentagon and then the report that the south tower (where Jim and his friends had been) had collapsed. Jim turned to look out the rear window of the cab and saw that the south tower was gone from the skyline. Later, the north tower came down. Jim knew what that meant. He thought about his own brush with death and about all those innocent people who weren't so fortunate, who didn't make it out.
Excerpted from 9/11 by JAMES W. MOORE. Copyright © 2011 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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