Editor’s Journal: In the shadow of terror
The day began like any other. I made my way into work on what was a beautiful morning in the nation’s capital.
I had just settled into my office when my phone rang. I answered and the voice on the other end of the line said, “Are you OK?” To which I replied yes, and further inquired why she asked. Unknown to me, a plane had just flown directly into the Pentagon and there was word of another plane on its way to make a direct hit on the White House or the Capitol. When she told me the news, I turned around and looked out of my fifth floor office window and saw billows of black smoke rising from just across the river at the Pentagon. That day was Sept. 11, 2001.
I have never forgotten precisely what I was doing when I first looked out across the Potomac River and realized what was happening. It was a moment like none other in my life. Feelings of vulnerability mixed with anger came over me as news reports began to detail the crash of airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A group from our office gathered on the first floor of the office building where I worked and watched the televisions with horror and dismay as the second tower of the World Trade Center crashed to the ground. Washington, D.C. was in panic, as was Manhattan. People were already making their way out of the city. I chose to wait as traffic was backed up on the streets of D.C. and police were attempting to evacuate the city as quickly as possible. By the time I left the city later that evening, Washington, D.C. eerily resembled a ghost town.
I could see the Pentagon from my apartment in Arlington, Va., and I watched with shock and disbelief as I looked out from my balcony to see the full effect of the devastation. In the aftermath of the attack, I heard the sound of gunshots just outside my apartment window at Arlington National Cemetery. The 21-gun salutes became an all too familiar sound. I watched as funeral corteges carried victims of 9/11 to their graves and wondered just how our nation would rebuild after such a devastating attack.
The next week, I had a meeting in Manhattan. I slowly made my way down to “ground zero,” as it was termed, and could scarcely believe my eyes. Massive steel beams (still smoldering almost a week after the attack) jutted out of the ground, and the silence of the crowd that had gathered to observe the damage was deafening. It was just something too horrible to actually believe.
Now, eight years later, I marvel that we are still at war. We seem to be a nation adrift and in need of something more than mere moralism to bring a true revival to our land. Everyone knows that the true substance about the critical issues which confront 21st Century Americans just will not sell well. Who wants to talk about the very real possibility that the economic systems designed to support the public pensions of thousands are actually not there at all? Recent demographic studies unanimously conclude that America’s Social Security system cannot be sustained. Huge deficits now cast a long shadow over the future economic viability of the United States. Healthcare is fast becoming the American boondoggle. Doctors fearful of litigation and piled high in paperwork are growing weary of the U.S. health system that now sees them as the enemy.
It is now agreed even among political conservatives that most of the Socialist Party platform on which Norman Thomas ran in 1928 stands implemented. Justice wanes before the face of hardened ideologues who see the bench as the legislative chamber. Marriage remains in crisis. Terrorism continues to loom. Yet, if the past is prologue, to observe modern political life, no one would ever catch a glimpse of these real issues demanding attention. Combined with the seemingly tepid state of many churches across the nation, a certain undefined angst now seems to have gripped the nation.
The churches of the Lord Jesus Christ are the only hope of the nation, and on this occasion when we remember the tragedy of that day eight years ago, our resolve must be to rise up and proclaim the Gospel to those who will face something far more terrifying than a terrorist attack. On that day when final judgment comes on this world, the devastation will far surpass what the world witnessed on 9/11. Ours is the charge to proclaim Him, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28).