Thirteen Years

Cool air and bright sunlight streamed through the open windows of the tiny upstairs apartment at 505 Hawke Street. Jo was already at school and I had slept in a little bit after a late night at work. I rolled out of bed, showered, fried a couple of eggs and sat down with a reading assignment, something out of Miles and Priest's Adventure Programming. I considered briefly the irony of such a beautiful morning being spent reading about how to plan adventures rather than actually pulling out my mountain bike and going on one. Yet I didn't particularly mind. The beanbag by the window was perfectly comfortable, the warm breeze occassionally lifted a page or two, and the sky was crystal clear blue; not even an airplane had left a streak across it.

Not one single airplane. 

About an hour later the apartment's phone rang. "Where are you? Why aren't you in here?" inquired the voice on the other end of the line. Obviously I was at home. Taken aback by the apparently urgent tone I wondered if I had missed an appointment. 

"I don't have anything until 11," I said calmly. "Why? What's up?"


Clearly this was no time to protest. The person on the other end of the line hung up abruptly as I fumbled for the remote and finally turned on the television. When the picture came on I found it difficult to comprehend what I was looking at. The caption at the bottom of the screen said it was the World Trade Center in New York City. However I was smarter than that. I knew that the World Trade Center was composed of two towers, not one. There was no other tower so clearly the caption was wrong. It must be Chicago or L.A. or someplace like that. But undoubtedly there was something terribly amiss. Then, still not comprehending what I was seeing I watched as that lone tower, the second one of course, collapsed into a giant cloud of debris.

I've visited all three sites associated with that tragic day. Well, I haven't really visited the Pentagon, but I drive past it on a fairly regular basis and witnessed the enormous chunk missing out of it for one year following the attack. I've stepped out of the subway and into the gaping hole left where the World Trade Center once stood. And I've stood in the empty field in western Pennsylvania numerous times, staring at the horizon and trying to imagine what it would have been like to have witnessed an enormous airliner streaking across the sky, just hundreds of feet off the ground and upside down, prior to diving into the shale at a perpendicular angle. 

It was, and for many it still is, an unspeakable horror forever etched upon the minds of those of us now about 20 years of age or older. I would venture a guess that among those of us over the age of 30 no one believes it occurred 13 years ago. It feels much closer than that. The other night, amidst a group of twenty-somethings one of them, an elementary school teacher, mentioned that her administration had directed her and her colleagues not to discuss the events of September 11, 2001 with their students on September 11, 2014. I was in the minority in agreeing with the administration. 

Certainly September 11, 2001 is a day worthy of remembrance. Each individual life that was lost is definitely worthy of remembrance. In time Adam and Alyse, my kids, will come to understand and rationalize, if that's possible, the events of that day in their own minds in much the same way I have come to understand and rationalize the events of Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, King's and Kennedy's assassinations, and other unappealing aspects of history for which I was not yet present. And by the time Adam and Alyse are 38 years old it is a sobering thought, but each of them will have experienced their own share of corporate and perhaps more personal tragedies. Such is life. 

But today I would simply like both of my children to know that 13 years ago was more than a terrible day for America. It was a terrible day for humanity, one which forced us to come to grips with not only our mortality, but the depth of our depravity. Otherwise I prefer to foster their naievete and spare them the details until a time when they are sufficiently capable of understanding that there is no remedy for these sorts of things other than God's grace. Withholding all judgment in regard to the appropriate course of action I simply pray that my children will in time come to realize that there is no amount of military force, diplomatic genius, or human will capable of solving the complicated equation of human depravity. History simply continues repeating itself until one day Christ returns and establishes his kingdom in all its glory on earth.

In the meantime, as we navigate lives filled with personal disappointment and grief arising from our brokeness and the brokeness of others, I believe we simultaneously experience blessings, goodness, and life that we are afforded by no means other than the grace of God. Some consider my belief offensive, but I think September 11 suggests otherwise. I have no answer for what would compel someone to perform such acts of devastation. Likewise I have no answer for what would compel someone to perform such acts of heroism as were witnessed on that day and in the days following. Clearly there must be larger forces at work.

As such I can only say that there, but for the grace of God, go I.