9/11: The Light Shines in the Darkness

This photo was taken in December 2011. Every year on this date, I remember visiting the 9/11 Memorial in December 2011. While there, we saw this faint rainbow shining up from the middle of the North Tower Memorial Pool. A powerful reminder of the Light that shines in the darkness…

Like many or all of us, I’ve been asked on this date, “Where were you?” Like many or all of us, I remember exactly where I was on that day and at that time.

It was a Tuesday morning. Roughly two months prior, I’d begun serving as the Director of Youth Ministries at the First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, Virginia. My first time living in a naval community. That Tuesday morning I arrived at my office shortly before 9:00 am. Instinctively, I checked my email, where I read an email from our Director of Music Ministries that he was resigning to take a position with our local orchestra. A second later a colleague walked by my office. He said, “Did you hear the news?” I said, referring to our Director of Music Ministries’ email, “Yes, I’m excited for him, sad for us.” My colleague said, “No, the news that a plane struck the World Trade Center North Tower.” He walked away as I clicked on Internet Explorer and searched the Internet. I thought, “How could a plane get that far off course?” Then a darker thought came: “Or…what if it was right on course?” At 9:03 am, when a second plane struck the South Tower, I knew which was the answer. 

It was my first time living in a naval community. I naively thought, “Well, we’re totally safe in a naval community.” I quickly learned how unsafe that made us. We were a major target. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. 

It was a Tuesday morning. Every Tuesday we had a worship service for staff in the Chapel, followed by our staff meeting. On that particular Tuesday morning, we all lingered in the hallway leading down to the Chapel. We discussed what we needed to do, whom we needed to contact in light of the attack. We never made it down the hallway to the Chapel to worship. And yet, we worshipped. Not in the Chapel, but in our community.

Not sure exactly what to do, I went to our local high school, Maury High School. I went to the administrative office, introduced myself, and asked, “How can I help?” I was directed to the guidance counselor’s office, where there were maybe two dozen students present. Most of their parents had been called to their ships right after the attacks in case they needed to be deployed immediately. One such student asked me, “Will I ever see my parents again?” I opened my mouth to say the usual default, “It’ll be ok.” But on that day, it wasn’t so easy to say those words. On that day, there were no words.

Flash forward a few hours, and our church staff and other religious staff organized an amazing ecumenical service that night. I remember calling a local secular radio station that afternoon and asking them to promote the service. The DJ said, “Yes, we’ll advertise it. Because, right now, it doesn’t matter your religious or ethnic group. Right now, we all are one.”

I went home after that worship service and after a great impromptu gathering of our staff at our senior pastor’s home. In my move to Norfolk, it was the first time I lived alone without a roommate. Until that night, I’d loved the sense of independence. 

But that night I went home alone. 

But that night I wasn’t the only one who went home alone. 

The following week our church was scheduled to launch our church-wide small-group initiative. On that following Tuesday night, exactly one week after 9/11, I hosted an initial small group for young singles. When I asked in my living room the typical icebreaker question, “Why did you come tonight?”, the answers were quite atypical: “Because on 9/11 I realized how alone I was.” “Because on 9/11 I realized there was something missing in my life.” “Because on 9/11 I realized I needed God and other people to be in my life.”

And so began an amazing ministry.

There have been many people who have asked me how we launched such an amazing Young Singles’ Ministry. There have been many a Facebook meme that have wished we could go back to September 12, 2001.

The answers to both are one and the same.

I would never wish to go back to September 12, 2001, or to that week later, September 18, 2001…because I know that means going back to September 11, 2001. And yet I would wish to go back to that sense of spirit on September 12, 2001, and to that sense of community in that living room on September 18, 2001. In the words of that DJ 18 years ago: “Right now, it doesn’t matter what your religious or ethnic group is. Right now, we all are one.”

May it be so. Amen. 

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