My parents can tell me where they were when they heard about the moon landing. My mom remembers when Robert Kennedy was assassinated. My grandparents have distinct memories of December 7, 1941.
On September 11, 2001, I became one of those people who can answer where I was when I heard about the worst terrorist attack on American soil in history.
I was a freshman at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, a small, state-run college in central Nebraska. I was 18 years old, and after a summer of feeling unsure about this new step into adulthood, I had finally found like I was settling in. I’d made new friends, gotten involved with a campus ministry, and felt like the world was full of possibilities.
The night of Sept. 10, 2001, a friend I had known since we were third graders at church camp hung out. We climbed to the top of a hill overlooking campus and sat in a brick gazebo, watching the lights of the city and the stars come out. The air was just turning cooler, and I remember he and I had a long talk about God, our futures, and what we wanted out of life. I don’t remember any of the specifics, but the one thing that has stuck with me for fifteen years was a feeling of peace, and certainty that all was right with the world.
The next day, the world flipped upside down.
I had an 8 a.m. class, and went to the computer lab to check my email when it got out at 9:15. There was a news headline about a plane hitting a building in New York, and I thought it was probably just some small Cesna with a poor pilot that killed a handful of people. I didn’t even click on the article.
A few minutes later, I went upstairs to my dorm room, and was greeted by one of my friends, in her bathrobe and pacing the hallway.
“Have you seen the TV?” she asked.
I said I hadn’t, that I had just gotten out of class, and she pulled me into her room. There, on the TV, was the image that has been burned into every American’s brain since that day: the two towers of the World Trade Center afire, smoke billowing into the bright morning blue sky.
The rest of the day passed by in a blur. I called my parents, reached out to friends. Prayer vigils were organized, the Red Cross was taking blood donations, and professors hollowly lectured to classes whose minds were elsewhere. We might have been insulated in the heart of Nebraska, but everyone’s spirits were in New York City.
I wrote in my prayer journal later that day, “I have this horrible feeling that it might change life as we know it in the US. Are we going to war? Sweet Jesus, we need you to intervene and give this nation over to you. It doesn’t seem fair that last night was so wonderful and perfect, just talking to Phil on the hill and looking over Your creation. And then today this horrible terrorist attack happens.” I closed the entry with “You are an awesome God who right now is very busy listening to the prayers of others.”
I remember imagining that the US was going to war, that World War III was just around the corner. I wondered if all of the college boys I had just met would be drafted, and fight unknown enemies overseas. I (selfishly) wondered if I would become a spinster, because all of the men would die in combat.
Life has changed since 9/11, in ways that I couldn’t have predicted. My innocent childhood came to an abrupt end that day, and I learned what it was like to be an adult, to know that evil was real, that hatred drove people to do unthinkable things.
But you know what? Although the world changed, God remained the same. He was and still is good. He is still the King of Kings and the Prince of Peace. He wept with the families who lost innocents in the attacks, and grieved with those who went to war to protect our freedoms. He held the broken and the hurting in his hands. And He guided the military to seek justice against the criminals who planned the attacks.
Someday, when my children ask me where I was on September 11, 2001, I want to tell them my story. But instead of ending it with the image of fire and smoke, I want them to know that evil doesn’t win. That the story didn’t end with two collapsed buildings, a burning Pentagon, and a downed plane in a Pennsylvania field.
They need to know that it’s been fifteen years, but we’re still here. That God is still in control. And evil never wins.