Ken’s e-Pistle

September 13, 2023

As I write this missive, it is September 11, 2023.  Twenty-two years ago, almost to the very moment, the United States suffered the most devastating attack of terror since the assault on Pearl Harbor.  In all, almost three thousand souls were lost; a down-payment on the thousands who would later die from injuries and disease resultant from that day.  It precipitated our longest war and slugged us out of our corporate delusion that we were safe because of our sophisticated armed forces, our oceans on both shores, and our sense of American exceptionalism. It all changed in a short period of 24 hours.

I was serving the Westminster Church in Rome at the time and was putting on my tie when Miss Vicki called me from the den where she was watching the Today Show. Initial reports were that a private plane had collided with one of the twin towers.  Just as one of the anchors commented that the damage seemed to be too great for a private plan, the second passenger jet plunged into the opposite tower. I continued to watch, transfixed for about an hour.

The church was only a few minutes away so I drove over and joined my staff only to find them glued to the small TV in my office.  An e-blast was sent out informing the congregation and community that we were opening the Sanctuary for prayer.  I forget how many came; most would come and sit quietly for a few minutes and leave.  Many, perhaps most, were shedding tears.  Oddly enough, non-members outnumbered members by about a 3-1 ratio.

All the while, my phone was ringing.  A close friend in Atlanta called to let me know that fighters were flying close air support over Atlanta.  All commercial and private flights had been ordered to land at the nearest airport or landing strip.  Members of the military returned to their posts and the USMC Armory in Rome became a center of frantic activity.  Two active-duty Marines, in full combat kit, stood at the gate as a deuce & a half truck, loaded with water and sand, served as a barrier.

The local Red Cross sent out an emergency request for blood donations and was quickly swamped with eager donors.  Slowly, we emerged from the shock and I was reminded of the cryptic words of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto who, when he was told that the American aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor during his attack, commented, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”

Such was, indeed the case.  American flags began to dot the landscape and our people were united as I had never before seen.  Songs like “Proud to be an American” were frequent features on the radio.  Volunteers for the armed forces boggled the minds of recruiters.  Firefighters and Police were immediate heroes and remain so to this day, at least in my mind.

But we were forever changed. Suspicion of others began to creep into our national psyche.  Muslims were considered to be threats, even those who had lived here their entire lives.  Those who had survived the Interment Camps of the Japanese during the Second World War feared a similar fate for the followers of Mohammad.  Security screenings became commonplace.

Such are the memories we have, good and bad.  Such are the scars we continually pick at in our fear and paranoia.

But, despite all of this, we are still here.  God rules even in the midst of it.  Such is our only hope.

I bid you peace, albeit a sometimes uneasy one.