Eight years ago today when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, I was sitting in my Person in Ministry class at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. I remember walking into Gloria Dei chapel after class and hearing that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At the time, I thought it was just a small plane because they’d had one crash into a building in Florida and it wasn’t a big deal, so why was everyone flipping out? Our dean of the chapel read St. Patrick’s Breastplate to us after letting us know that DC and New York were effectively shut down. Still… I wondered what the big deal was. It wasn’t until I walked into the student lounge and saw one of the towers collapse in real time that I understood what the big deal was.
I remember the first thing I did was to call my mom who was still asleep and going to be flying to Cleveland that day on business. She didn’t know what I was so upset about until she turned on the TV. Then, I heard her gasp and wake my dad up.
I remember everyone who was on campus that day crowding into Schenk Chapel for a prayer service at noon. I remember lots of tears and Dr. Mark Ramseth, our seminary president, sitting on the floor in the midst of us leading the prayers. Never has the song “Lord Listen To Your Children Praying” had such meaning. Classes were cancelled for the rest of the day so that people could go home and track down family and friends in that area.
The next few days were a blur of prayer services and candlelight vigils. One very distinct memory I have is of the Community Eucharist the next morning and the Litany being sung acapella and it just being very haunting and evoking the feeling that we were standing in the presence of the Almighty asking for protection. I also remember listening to the National Prayer Service on the local NPR station which our circulation librarian had turned on.
Besides that week, I have other very distinct memories.
I remember hearing horror stories about what Muslims across the US were dealing with from bigoted people who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) distinguish them from the fanatics who had been the actual hijackers. The story of a Sikh man in Arizona being beaten to death because of his turban still saddens me to this day.
I remember the idiotic comments of prominent right-wing Evangelicals like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Franklin Graham about Islam. The latter saddened me the most because I have so much respect for his father (the Reverend Billy Graham) and he was the one chosen to take over at the time.
I remember weeping when I heard about troops being sent to Afghanistan to bomb the Taliban because I knew that innocent people would die regardless of how “careful” we were.
I remember it being seriously politicized and becoming the rationale for the War in Iraq even though none of the hijackers were Iraqi (15 of the 19 were from our supposed “ally” Saudi Arabia) which angered me greatly.
I remember being in Detroit 3 months after it happened and around the time Attorney General John Ashcroft had “asked” all Muslim men between the ages of 18-35 to voluntarily come in for
interrogation questioning. It was somewhat painful that the first words out of anyone’s mouth at the mosques we visited were “we’re not ones that did it” and I felt awful that they had to apologize for the actions of a small group of people that in no way represented the larger Islamic faith.
Most of all, I remember just being disgusted 6 months and then a year later when there were “retrospectives” on TV and all. I felt it was incredibly disrespectful to the families of the victims who were having the scabs on their emotional wounds ripped off again and again. It was why I created the September 11th Media Fast in 2002 — I just didn’t feel like I needed to watch hours of footage to remember the horror of that day. I also feel serious disgust at the renaming of today as “Patriot Day” — I feel like it is such an insult to those who died.
As I sit here 8 years later, I really feel no compelling reason to re-visit the horror of that day on a yearly basis but rather to remember how my world has changed since it happened. In the last 8 years, we’ve toppled the regime in Iraq, seen our own civil rights taken away in the name of national security (*waves to the nice NSA people who are reading this*), seen the day taken and used wrongly for the purposes of electing or re-electing people to office, become more fearful as a nation, and decried what we went through so many times that the rest of the world is dying to tell us to SHUT UP ALREADY. (You’d think we’re the only country that has had a terrorist attack take place on our soil.)
What I wish we could do is remember the day but also realize that maybe some of our foreign policy decisions could have been a little better and that the hijackers do not “hate us because we’re free” but because they’ve been taught that we’re occupying their Holy Land and we’re supporting Israel in persecuting the Palestinians. I wish we could use this day as a reminder of what happens when we preach an “us vs. them” mentality and eschew tolerance of the beliefs of others.
Mostly, I wish that we as a nation could join together as we all did on that day and all be “Americans” once again.