The day that halted my generation’s leisurely flight [through our world], I reported to work as usual as the tragedy up the coastline hit the news.
“Did you hear that a plane just hit the World Trade Center Tower in New York?” the church receptionist asked me as I passed her desk on the way back to my office.
That’s weird, I remember thinking. Why is the church receptionist suddenly playing anchor woman? She’s never passed on a headline before.
But this was not enough to jar my oblivion. The news was still calling the crash an accident and thus, my reaction was somewhat shrugging disregard, mustering only momentary empathy for the family of whatever pilot had manned what I expected was a twin-engine plane crash.
This, I’m afraid, is the way I hear—or rather don’t hear—the daily news. I consider whatever trauma or tragedy is reported for just a minute before letting my music or my shopping list sweep it away.
It wasn’t until the plane was identified as an airliner that my heart joined my head in the listening. And it wasn’t until a second plane crashed and the FAA grounded all planes that I began to realize how my generation’s concept of our world was crashing as well.
That day we did what nearly every church in the country did. We opened our sanctuary, mid-afternoon, for spontaneous prayer. On an average week, like almost any week that preceded September 11 in our lifetime, residents probably would’ve been more likely to respond to a fish and chips special at a local beach bar than to an opportunity for midweek prayer. But on this day the other events on our agendas seemed less important than when we had written them.
Next to the towers crumbling, “pick up the dry cleaning” became a trivial note.
Within minutes, a steady stream of people from across the country began flooding into the sanctuary. A tiny bit of sad perspective flooded in too, as my friends and I noted that we could not recall such widespread willingness to break from hurried life to pray at any other point in our lives. But unusual or not, by late afternoon, burdened silhouettes of Jackson residents filled the chairs—sitting, leaning forward head in hands, and even kneeling. I could not remember the last time I saw someone break away from social norms to kneel while praying either.
But that’s what pain does. It can open things—church doors, minds, hearts and even possibilities.
Over the next few days I’ll be sharing excerpts from my September 11th story. The entire story is available in Part 4 of my book Picking Dandelions: A Search for Eden Among Life’s Weeds.