Sunday, September 11, 2011

"There's been a plane crash in New York..."

Those were the first words I heard in relation to the attacks on the United States ten years ago today. At the time I worked for a small company with only seven or eight employees. The owner's father would often drop by the shop to say hi or bring in some treats from a local German bakery. On the morning of September 11, 2001 he had just heard a report on the car radio that a small plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and popped in to ask if we'd heard about it yet. While certainly tragic, it didn't sound like there was any suspicion of wrongdoing at that point. The oldies radio station that was on in the office hadn't said a word about the "accident" yet so we all went back to our desks to get on with the day's work.

It was shortly after the second plane crashed into the south tower at 9:03 AM that the DJ on the station broke in to give the news of what had happened and we all looked at each other with an immediate sense that this day would be like no other. It wasn't long before someone (it was either the owner of the business or his father) brought in a small TV for us to watch what was happening. There was no cable in the small office so we stood, mostly silent, watching the day's events unfold through the snowy haze of the small screen.

While the rest of the day was a bit of a blur - an attack on the Pentagon...a plane down in Pennsylvania...rumours of other planes being hijacked all across the U.S...all commercial flights being grounded - one moment in particular remans very clear for me. When the first tower collapsed I very clearly recall one of my coworkers having a bit of an emotional meltdown as he stomped through the warehouse cursing at the as yet unknown attackers and repeating over and over again that things will never be the same. Little did we know at that moment just how right he was.

I also remember leaving work early to go home and spend the night with my wife, glued to the TV set just like everyone else. As we watched the planes crash into those towers over and over again, the smoke billowing up into the clear blue sky, and the implosion that rained paper and dust on the streets below, there was a palpable sense of fear running through both of us. What was going on? Why was this happening? Could it happen in Canada? Was there more to come? Do we need to be afraid of the Muslim neighbours who live down the hall? Should we be calling our relatives? Do we know anyone in New York? Is the church getting together to pray?

That last question was perhaps the most difficult one of all. We were scared. We wanted to be surrounded by our church community. We wanted to be with them to pray, to support each other, to cry together. To do what the body of Christ is supposed to do at times like that. Sadly, the church we were attending at the time was silent. There were no phone calls. There was no prayer gathering that night, or the next, or the next. There was a brief mention of the tragedy the following Sunday and a prayer during the scheduled prayer time, but that was it.

All of us were and continue to be affected by 9/11 in some way. We all have our own unique stories of what that day was like and what we were doing at the exact moment we heard the tragic news. For me (and my wife), the greatest impact was the decision to find a new church to call home. In the aftermath of that fateful Tuesday morning I had never felt so hurt, lost, or confused by a church in my life. A small price to pay I realize compared to the immense loss of life that had taken place, not to mention the loss of a way of life. But it was clearly time for us to find a church who knew how to care when people were hurting, who knew how to open their doors - and their arms - to embrace its people at the time of their greatest need. We found that church and have found in ourselves the ability to open our own hearts as well to the pain and suffering we see around us every day.

No church is perfect and certainly no individual is perfect, but I am convinced that in our time of greatest need, our God is perfect and knows exactly what we need to find healing and rest. Ultimately, security can't be found in better airport screening or in better policing tactics, but only in the arms of a Saviour who gave his all so that we could find peace.

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