Remembering

Ten years ago, I wrote a column for a local paper. This is from the piece I wrote after 9/11:

As uncomfortable as it might be for us to admit, the world in which we live today is completely different from the one we lived in only a week ago.

True, most of us can go back to work. We have hung our flags. We have prayed our prayers. We have held our moments of silence. We have given our blood and our money. But we were all witnesses to the most horrific disaster ever to befall a group of American civilians on their own soil–far worse than Pearl Harbor, worse even in some ways than the carnage of Antietam in the 1860s. For in those other situations, the people who died did so with their guns trained on a visible enemy.

In this instance, civilians from 40 different countries were busy checking their e-mail, sipping coffee, chatting with friends and family on the phone, making plans, engaged in the same little rituals as the rest of us in the Eastern United States. In an instant, that all came to an end.

I was grading papers in my office when someone called to announce the collision at Trade One. Funny thing–in my isolated, comfortable little world, I shrugged it off, thinking it was only a private plane and that the “disaster” would be on the order of a “regular” plane crash–a few dozen killed maybe. It’s horrible to say, but the way these stories are normally sandwiched between the latest scandal and the home-run race, we’ve learned not to think much of them.

Minutes later, I found a television and watched as the top of Trade Two came down, in slow motion like something out of a movie, and my stomach lurched. A half-dozen or so other people were watching with me, and I couldn’t even tell you who they were. What I was seeing hit some kind of barrier in my mind and refused to register. Numbly, I turned away.

As the week trudged on and the endless coverage continued, a lot of things went through my mind. The first was, it’s amazing what loses importance in the face of mortality. We wonder how the world can get on with its petty scurrying hither and thither, with the mechanical grind that seems ultimately self-serving and essentially useless. We take a serious hit in the viscera of our values and wonder what we’ve been thinking about all this time, and why didn’t we see all this before?

But we should remember something very important. The shift in our vision is instructive, but it is exaggerated. To a large extent, life is really about being faithful with what is in front of us, regardless of where we are, and no matter when. That’s precisely what most of the folks who were lost to us last week were doing–being faithful with the paper clips on their desks. They had no idea they were going to be called away just then–and neither do we at any time. But I have to believe that their deaths were as noble in their way as the soldier’s on the front line.

While the president and generals get justice in gear, we can do something vital. We can remain faithful where we are and we can pray. For while God is not more in one place than He is in another, we can believe, I think, that our prayers can send angels to those who need them most.

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