Saturday, September 11, 2010
The events of September 11, 2001 have had a profound effect on me. I'm not even sure why because I did not know one single person who died on that day. (Todd Beamer was an alumnus of Wheaton College, as am I, but he was there a few years after me.) I think what really happened was that a sense of security, innocence, was lost in me that day, and I haven't been the same since.
That evening, I sat down and wrote a letter to my children because I knew that day was significant. Obviously we didn't have all the details that we have today, but I wanted to remember as many details as I could so that my girls would have a record of what we were thinking and feeling as the events unfolded.
Today I want to share just a bit of that letter with you. Some of it is insignificant to you, so I'm editing parts of it out. Some of it is just too personal to share, so I'm keeping that for just our family (I've also changed the names of two of my children, as I have always done). But for the most part I haven't changed much of the letter; I thought it might be helpful to someone to read my thoughts on that day.
September 11, 2001
My dear children:
This morning when you woke up the sky was bright; it was a perfect September day. You awoke to normalcy, safety, security. Within an hour, all of that was shattered. Nothing is the same anymore; the days will not be perfect for a long time.
I want to record this day for you because it is historic. Tragic, but also historic. I want you to know what you were doing and thinking and feeling. I want you to know how we have responded to this tragedy as a family.
As I said, the morning started out pretty normal for us. It was picture day at school, so Kate and Abby were busy taking showers, getting dressed, and making their hair pretty. (You both looked so beautiful, by the way!) We ate breakfast and listened to the radio just as we usually did. Dad was home with us for a while, then he left around 7:45. He said that he went to the barber shop before work, and as he was driving there he heard a news report on the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. When he got to the barber shop he told the guys in there to turn on the t.v. because this very strange thing had happened. He said that as they were standing there watching the first pictures of what had happened, all of a sudden a second plane came into view and crashed into the second tower right next to where the first one had hit. Dad saw it happen live. After he finished up at the barber shop, he called us right away to tell me to turn on the t.v. I did, and saw what he had seen just minutes before. We were stunned, shocked, and didn’t know what to think about it all. I suspected terrorists right away, but really couldn’t comprehend what they had done.
And I had to think right away about how to explain all of this to you. I knew that many, many people would die. So I sat down with you right away and explained what I could about how some people hate the United States for religious reasons and that their religion tells them that they will go straight to heaven if they die in such an attack on the United States. I explained that this was, of course, a false religion and that the God of the Bible would never condone anything like what had just happened. We prayed together for the families of those who were certainly already dead. We prayed to the God who holds the entire universe in the palm of His hand. We prayed to the one true God who loves us, but who also hates the evil in this world. We prayed for comfort for the families, for justice over evil, for the quick return of Jesus to this earth so that this kind of evil and suffering would end. I tried my best to comfort you with the truth that God is sovereign and will ultimately reign over this world.
Almost as soon as we finished praying Dad called us again to see if we had been watching. No, I said, we hadn’t. He said that the Pentagon had been hit. I couldn’t even believe my ears! What next?! I got very scared and started shaking. I felt sick to my stomach. But I also felt a heavy responsibility to react in a way that wouldn’t make you guys scared to death. So once again I explained that the terrorists (I was sure at this point that it was terrorists) had hit an important government building in Washington D.C. I tried to stay calm with you girls. You went on your way, finishing getting ready for school. But I went to the kitchen where the Wheaton College radio station was playing. The woman who was announcing everything took a minute to pray over the air, so I prayed along with her and absolutely fell apart. I was wracked with sobs. I just couldn’t believe what was happening to our country. My sense of security was shattered. I think you were watching me, Abby, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t control my sobbing. You finally came in to ask me what was wrong and I was able to compose myself a little—enough to get you guys to school.
But just before we were to leave for school another tragedy. The tower in New York that had been hit second collapsed! All those people! Certainly thousands of people in that building. The enormity of the whole thing was just too hard to grasp. So much had happened in such a short amount of time. Again, I sobbed. Again, we sat to pray together before school.
Believe me, I wondered about sending you to school, but I really did feel it would be safe for you to be there, otherwise I would not have sent you. Your school was on lockdown, so the teachers ushered you straight into the building. They didn’t want groups of people standing around outside, I guess. I stopped outside of school to ask your principal if they were still having school and he said yes, that it would most likely be a full day. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to leave you there, but I also felt like it wouldn’t do any good for you to be sitting around watching this horrible thing unfold on t.v. You needed some normalcy in your life, and school was the best place to get that.
After I dropped you off I took Maggie to Amy’s house. By this time I was shaking so badly I could barely make it into her house, and as soon as I saw my dear friend Amy I fell apart crying. We hugged each other for a long time and cried together. I ended up staying a while for coffee—I just needed to be with someone. As we were watching the BBC on her computer, John Major, Prime Minister of England was giving a speech about this tragedy, we all of a sudden watched the second tower of the World Trade Center go down. Right before our eyes! We both screamed and cried. How much more would we have to bear?! At this point I felt very certain that thousands of people would die. I stayed at Amy’s house for a while, but finally left to go home to take a shower. Maggie stayed to play with her best friend, B. Thankfully the three-year-olds were oblivious to anything unusual in their lives.
The coverage continued all day. Sometime in the morning we found out that a fourth plane had been hijacked, but had crashed in a remote part of Pennsylvania. That plane was, as far as we know now, either on its way to Camp David or to another historical spot in Washington D.C. (the White House?). I guess we’ll find out more about that later.
Today was absolute chaos. In our home, I couldn’t get a thing done. I think I managed to do two loads of laundry, but that was about it. I was glued to the t.v. I was, and am, depressed. I am stunned and don’t know what to think. It’s absolutely amazing to me that a group could coordinate such an effort.
As details have started coming out, it turns out that this group hijacked four planes, two originating from Boston, one from Newark, and one from Washington D.C. All four planes were headed for California, so they would be as full as possible with fuel. The pilots of these planes, as well as the flight attendants, were all killed so that the hijackers (they say there may have been three to five hijackers on each plane) could commandeer each plane. Each plane was expertly flown, hitting its target dead on. Except for the fourth plane which went down in a field in PA—I keep wondering what happened to that one. Did someone on the plane overtake the hijackers? Did the U.S. military shoot it down? I’m really wondering, but even so, I guess it was a blessing amidst all of this tragedy that it didn’t hit Camp David or the White House.
George W. Bush, our president, was in Florida this morning. Throughout the day he was taken to secure sites in Louisiana and in Omaha, Nebraska where there is a bunker for just such a possibility as today. Finally, late this afternoon, he was flown on Airforce One, with four military planes flanking his, to Washington. Grandma actually saw the planes go over her farm! She knew it was his because she saw four streaks in the air—and it had to be him because there were no other planes allowed in the sky at all. Pretty awesome, I think.
So tonight I’m wondering what tomorrow will bring. I’m wondering if there will be more attacks in the morning. I’m wondering if we’re at all safe. I’m wondering how our country will go on from all of this sadness. But even as I’m wondering I’m answering myself, “Hope in the Lord.” “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Today I realized that apart from the Lord, we are never safe. Anywhere we go on this earth, we are not safe. But if we have the Lord, if we trust solely in Him, we have the security of knowing that we will live with Him forever. No, this earth is not safe. The Bible tells us that, but we in America don’t seem to take it to heart. Nothing like this has ever happened on the mainland. (Many people are comparing this to Pearl Harbor, but I think it’s worse, much worse.) But the truth is that in this world we will have trouble—God tells us that in His word. Our only hope is in Jesus Christ. My deepest prayer from this day is that people will realize where their only hope lies and put their trust in Christ. I pray for a great revival of the Holy Spirit in our land. Because a country that puts their trust in the only true God is a country that is great. Not the country with the strongest military or the biggest bombs. Only the country that puts its trust in the Lord.
Tonight as you sleep, I pray that you feel safe with your parents here with you. I pray that the events of today will not touch you as deeply as they have touched me. I pray that your sense of security will not be stripped from you as it has been from me. I pray that God will become more dear to you because of what has happened.
It was a picture perfect day today. The sky was crystal clear, the deepest blue late-summer sky. All was quiet until 8:00 a.m. Then the sky grew dark, and I fear it will be a long time before we see the sun again.
I love you all.