Archive | September, 2011

Ten years gone

11 Sep

I watch the news as regularly as I can. In college, friends and roommates may have thought it was weird or boring, but it was a part of my life growing up. When my parents got home from work the television in the kitchen would be switched over to the news (first the local, then the national) as my mother prepared dinner and my father sorted through the day’s mail.

On anniversaries of major events, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Challenger disaster, the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., or John Lennon, the national news would be flooded with original video footage and interviews with those who were there or vividly remembered the events of the day. People would say, “I remember exactly what I was doing when it happened,” but I never believed them. I mean, there had been so many days, so many hours between then and now. Surely events of the day had gotten fuzzy in that time, and they were just embellishing for the sake of a worthwhile news story.

Ten years ago today, I was sitting in Mr. Michocki’s ninth grade Pre-IB Biology class. It was a large lab room, filled with expansive black tables that allowed us to do a variety of experiments, or spread out our oversized bookbags and brick-like textbooks. We thought that morning was just a regular Tuesday, a beautifully sunny day in September, grasping onto the last legs of summer while ushering in the first signs of fall.

We were learning about pollution. About the ways that contaminants are distributed, and the damage they do to the environment. Another science teacher, the one who occupied the room across the hall, ran into our room and, in hushed tones, urged Mr. Michocki to turn on the television to a news station, any news station. A room full of 14-year olds who had just begun high school a few weeks earlier took this as an opportunity to enter into idle chatter, discussing the cutest upperclassmen or and potential homecoming dates.

At one point, my classmates and I turned to face the television as we heard the voices of newscasters come through the speakers. We saw a building, what could have been any building, with smoke billowing out of it. One of us, maybe it was even me (as it turns out, some details do fade away), cracked a pathetic joke about how that couldn’t be good for the environment. There was a general consensus that somewhere, what had once been an important building was being imploded to make room for something new. Then we heard what the newscasters were saying.

That the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane.

They weren’t concerned with specifics at this point, so several of my classmates began panicking. Their parents worked in the World Trade Center in Baltimore, and were they okay? There was a stunned silence as more details came to light. No, it wasn’t in Baltimore, it was in New York City. The audible sigh of relief that resonated through the room was soon replaced with gasps as we realized that another plane had hit, but the South Tower this time. This wasn’t an accident, a miscalculation of the plane’s navigation system.

We could not have imagined the enormity of what happened that day, but we knew it was world-changing. An hour or so after that first glimpse of live footage, the school-wide announcements began. Name after name after name was read, alerting us as to whose parents were waiting nervously in the lobby, pacing back and forth until they could hold their children just a little bit tighter than they had that morning. I think the county ended up closing schools early that day, but my mother had already come to take me home. We didn’t have any family or friends in New York or western Pennsylvania, and we didn’t know anyone who worked in the Pentagon. But we wanted to be together.

By the time I got home, every news outlet was reporting that this was a terrorist attack, and everyone was pointing fingers at al-Qaeda. In the following weeks, some classmates would report that students of Middle Eastern origin in our school ran through the halls that Tuesday, shouting about victory and the fall of America. I still have my doubts.

My last memory from that day is sitting on the couch in my basement and watched Ashleigh Banfield begin to interview a young mother as 7 World Trade Center unexpectedly disappeared from the skyline. I think I just went to bed after that, unable to process any more of what was going on.

So now I understand all of those people who can speak so precisely about what they were cooking or reading when they found out that our 35th President had been shot and killed. I don’t doubt their stories. Because on a day like December 7, 1941 or November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2011, every single moment is crystallized as you realize that you are living through history. When you can’t understand why something so terrible is happening, you cling to what you know, to what you can understand.

Last night, my friends Kelly and Luke invited friends and family to come celebrate the baptism of their youngest daughter. It was a beautiful service of welcoming a sweet little girl into the life of the church, centered around lectionary texts that lift up forgiveness. In proclaiming the Word, the pastor challenged us, that when we remember the events of September 11, 2001, we also remember the events of September 10, 2011 and the hope that this baptism represented. Then, during the prayers of the people, he prayed that God would help us “to forgive our enemies, regardless of their repentance.”

Regardless of their repentance.

I don’t know if I can say it any better. In the midst of a lifetime of not being able to fully understand grace, we can cling to what we do know: that God’s grace is offered freely and without condition. We can continue to grieve the loss of life and security the nation experienced that day, but we can also begin to move forward in hope. A hope that begins with forgiveness, and looks not toward forgetfulness, but toward reconciliation.