Funny how we always remember exactly where we were and what we were doing the moment some earth-shattering event takes place.
On September 11, 2001, I was working in the public defender's office in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. I was pretty self-absorbed that morning. I did not turn the TV on while getting ready for work (I had TV then) and in the car I listened to a station that played '80s music. At one point, as I was getting close to the office, the DJ said he would do his best to continue with the 8 straight hits (or whatever it was), but he was pretty shaken by what had just happened, as he was sure we all were. I wondered what he was talking about, but it didn't occur to me to switch to talk radio to find out. I pulled into the parking lot, got out of the car, and let myself in through the back door. Just outside the door to my office, a bunch of the support staff were huddled around the desk of my secretary, Lori, listening to the radio.
"What's happened?" I said.
"The World Trade Center is gone," Lori said.
My mind went immediately to the first attack on the Towers in 1993. I'm pretty sure the first thing I thought actually came out of my mouth: "So they've finished the job" -- "they" being the bunch responsible for the 1993 attack, or their compatriots. Despite the rumors that began immediately about domestic terrorists (the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing was still fresh in our memories), the first instinct was to prove correct, as it usually does. A thing like this could only be an act of war.
By the time I learned what was happening, about two and a quarter hours had passed since the first plane crashed into the Towers. It was almost an hour and a half since the third plane crashed into the Pentagon. The plane crash in Shanksville, Pennsylvania had just taken place an hour before. It seemed likely at that moment that as many as 50,000 people might have perished in just the Towers alone -- more than 20 times the number of people who died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that had taken place almost exactly 60 years earlier, and to which parallels were being instantly drawn. Although -- thankfully -- the number of slain on 9/11 proved to be only a fraction of that 50,000, it was still a grievous total that greatly surpassed Pearl Harbor.
Of course our first instinct was to glue ourselves to the news and try to take in these stupefying events. But we had court that day, and clients to see, and business to transact, and hearings to prepare for, and life had to carry on. But every minute we weren't in hearings or attending to our work, we were talking about the attacks, and what they meant, and what would happen next. It is a thing that cannot be understood except by those who lived through it: the outrage -- not only over the attacks themselves, but over the footage of Arabs dancing in the streets in celebration at the murders of thousands of innocent people -- the uncertainty; the realization that we ourselves might die in this new war -- for it was clearly war -- our impotence as individuals and littleness in the face of malign forces beyond our imagining; our attitude of defiance in the face of that impotence and our clinging to God and to each other in our littleness.
The world utterly changed on that bright September morning. Though it would be more accurate to say that the change in the world was manifest only on that morning: the change really came the day an extra-national, fanatical movement conceived the idea of using passenger jets as missiles to attack our military and commercial and government centers. On that day, a new fruit from hell, long in the growing, became ripe for the picking. That was the real day the world changed; only we who stood outside the tiny circle of conspirators could not know it. Perhaps the world has changed yet again without our knowing it. Are we ready to face it?
9/11 was a shot across our bow. Thankfully, nothing like it has happened again to us in the intervening 10 years, thanks to the brave men and women who defend this country. It galvanized us and woke us up; but sadly, we have gone back to sleep. Even the triple catastrophe of New York, Washington and Shanksville has failed to make us straighten up and fly right. We have proven ourselves more willing than ever to surrender our liberty to the government. Our moral confusion and cultural degeneracy have increased. Who, on September 11, 2001, could have imagined that by the tenth anniversary of that dreadful day, we would have submitted ourselves to the government of the enemies of all that this country has ever stood for?
On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, we should pray for the dead and their families; for the safety of our armed forces; and for our repentance and conversion as a nation.