At 08:30 on the morning of September the 11th 2001 I was nervously getting ready for day two of my new job at the headquarters of American Airlines in Texas. I was over for a time from the UK to take up my position as a personality profiler and was anxious to do well in my new role, so was dressed early and caught the first shuttle to the HQ building whereupon I sat at my desk in a briefing room and awaited my colleagues who were due in at nine-ish.
At 08:50 a security guard burst into the room and shouted at me to follow him. I knew this was no drill by the look in his face, his posture and the urgency in his voice, you can’t mimic that kind of response. So I followed him down the hall, it was then I heard the first screams…
Much later in the day as a vast number of us gathered in the training facility lecture room watching live feeds of the unfolding events, we had instinctively gathered into small groups and dotted ourselves around. Some were silently sitting together, some were crying, hugging and many were praying. Praying for the people dying in the buildings, the colleagues and passengers we knew on the planes, and praying that there would be no more attacks to happen that day.
Being one of three people from the UK in the building at that moment I myself felt very alone and in quite a state of fear and shock. My selfish mind took over and all I could think of was getting back home to my wife and two year old son, everyone else was at the back of my mind. It’s a feeling I still remember with some bitterness that in that moment my usual compassionate nature flew out of the window to be replaced with self-preservation and getting home.
Many hours later when we were allowed to leave, I sat in the hotel restaurant listening to people angrily demanding war and retribution, vengeance and more death. I later chatted to a man in the hotel who wanted immediate nuclear strikes at the middle east, I questioned him “where”? He replied “Anywhere”. This vile act of hatred had spread its poison and had begat reciprocal hatred amid horror, death and confusion.
Such is the response of grief and anger, a swell of feelings that range from despair to hatred in a single moment and we can all fall into this, none of us can escape such feelings, we are hard-wired to experience them. It’s how we cope with them that is the key. I found that my feelings were best handed to God, that my anger was laid at the foot of cross as I swapped it for a mantle of compassion and prayer, James 1:19-20 “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God”. (ESV)
I spoke earlier that I had felt selfish and ashamed with my thoughts and prayers of “just get me home”, well God gave me the opportunity to redeem myself, not in his eyes but in mine. On the plane home, the first out of Texas once the flight ban had lifted, I was sat next to a young lady who was terrified of the flight. I was still in semi-official capacity on the plane and I spent the next seven hours consoling her, reassuring her and being a prayerful support in her time of need, and I think I needed that as much as she did.
Where was God in all this? It’s easy for us to point the finger at Him when horrible things happen. I grew up in London in the 70’s where you would hear IRA car bombs going off not far from where I lived, you would go to school and worry whether you would get blown up on the way. Where is God in all that? Did he fly the planes into the buildings? Did he set the bombs in London? No.
God did not create evil or evil doers Gen 1:31 “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (ESV), he created all that is good in the world with love but he also gave us choice and free will. We can choose to accept his love and act accordingly or to reject love. In Romans 8:28 God tells us that He works for the good of those who love Him, which for me shows that God was there with us alright. He was working through the rescue teams, the fire fighters and police, the compassionate, the strong and the ordinary. Good works came from them, comforting, rebuilding, trusting and prayer. People were brought together despite the vile acts meant to separate us, but Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”. (ESV)
So where was God in this? He was there and he is at work Rev 21:5 “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (ESV). We are still a work in progress and while we call on God to ask where is he when horrible things happen he says he is coming when the time is right and Rev 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (ESV)
At the site of the World Trade Centre now stands a memorial to all who died there, including their names carved thereon. I have not been back to America since that terrible day but I would like to return and visit the memorial to pay my respects to those there. The memorial is a fitting thing as these events and the people involved should never be forgotten.
I myself could have been a name on that memorial for I was due to be in the World Trade Centre on that morning. I was due to meet my brother there, who lives and works in Kentucky, as we had not seen each other for some years, but for a few reasons we put off the meet-up. I thank God regularly for that.
Prayer: Almighty God. You have promised us that in this world we shall see trouble, suffering and strife, but we thank you that you are there to help us through it and to see the future promise of your kingdom. “Blessed are the peace makers” are your words and so we pray for those who work and strive for peace and love, unity and protection. We pray the hardest prayer of all that you commanded “to love our enemies and pray for them” (Matt 5:44) in order to let love overcome hate. Amen