Originally posted September 11, 2012
As I write these words, the stresses of everyday life come to mind. I think of how busy I am between work and my other commitments. I’m so often short-sighted and allow myself to get frustrated. It’s getting late and I jot some thoughts down before going to sleep. On this night, my thoughts are on the past and with people I’ve never met. Seventeen years ago tonight, thousands of Americans went to bed, unaware that it was the eve of their last day on earth.
For me, that’s surreal. Monday was an ordinary start to the work week. In the evening, people played with their kids, and watched Monday Night Football, and kissed their spouses goodnight. They prepared to go on flights for work, or vacation, or just to make it home. They thought about what bill needed to be paid and the home repair which needed to be completed. They went to sleep like it was any other night and woke up to a beautiful Tuesday morning.
As people sat in their offices in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, perhaps some of them looked outward with puzzlement to the low flying aircraft as it flew closer. And closer. And in an instant, the passengers on the plane and the employees on several floors of the World Trade Center were incinerated at the front lines of a war in which they had never enlisted.
For me, and for where I am in my life, 17 years might as well be a thousand years ago. It seems like everything in my life is different today than it was on September 11, 2001. But the events of that day come back vividly and I remember as if it were yesterday.
I was a 15 year old high school sophomore sitting in a third period geometry class, taking my first quiz of the school year when our principal announced that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I assumed it was an accident but a guy in my class muttered “terrorism.” We continued taking our quizzes, and before the period had ended, the principal again took to the PA system to announce that a second plane had hit the other tower.
Throughout the rest of that morning, I remember the confusion. In fourth period, I had chemistry. The principal announced that one of the towers had collapsed. My teacher turned on the news.
Fifth period was my lunch. Other information had trickled in. Rumors and speculation ran strong. Sixth period was journalism. Along with several other classes, our teachers led us to the school library where we continued to watch the news coverage. By this point, both towers had collapsed and we saw the chaos in Manhattan as the debris cloud enveloped the Trade Center Plaza. If the world were ending, I assume it would look a bit like that scene from New York.
We still had football practice that afternoon. I still remember that we were preparing to play Worthington Kilbourne. I remember seeing images on TV of radical Islamic groups cheering and celebrating the attack and how helpless I felt. It seemed like life would never be the same. In many ways, it has’t. I know I’m not alone. For so many of us, 9/11 made an indelible mark on our lives. We changed that day.
In my tenth grade geometry class, as the principal announced that the World Trade Center had been struck, a young man in my math class first heard of the attack at the same time as me. I would later find out that September 11 was a seminal event in his decision to join the army. Shortly before Christmas in 2006, that fine young man lost his life for the cause of defending America and freedom. It would be impossible for me to think back to 9/11 without thinking of him. As I think of him in my recollections, it is difficult for me not to be fatalistic.
For so many more Americans who have served, their stories are similar to his. I consider it to be part of the enduring American Spirit. With burning towers, Americans ran into them; in the aftermath of the attack, Americans volunteered to take up the cause and risk their own lives, and thousands still continue to take up that cause.
A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.
Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America — with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.
-George W. Bush. September 11, 2001
May God continue to bless the Republic.
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Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.