10 September, 2006

The Longest Day

Everyone remembers where they were that day and what they were doing when they finally realized what was happening. I can remember every detail like it was yesterday. Five years ago.

At the time, I was running a business center at a college and my office was 60 miles from my home so I spent quite a bit of time commuting. I rushed to the office because I had a meeting with a client another 40 miles away mid morning. I rushed to check e-mail, go over a few things with my assistant and meet up with another person who was going with me. I was in a big hurry. Rush, rush, rush. Important things to do and people to see.

My assistant came into my office and said, "A plane has hit the World Trade Center". I said, "Oh, that sounds horrible"...thinking it was an accident. I don't think I even bothered to look up from the computer screen. Fifteen minutes later, she is back, "Lin, this is real serious, another plan has hit the other tower".


We rushed down to see the media guy who has TV's in his office. About 20 people are packed in there watching already. No one said a word. What is there to say?

Now here is the strange part. What to do? Does life go on? Do I cancel my meeting? The person going with me, A professor of Quality Technology and Lean Manufacturing, had a son living in New York City. So I called and asked her if she wanted me to reschedule.... I am sure they would understand. She said she had been trying to reach her son but there was no answer. She decided it was best to go to our long time prearranged meeting.

We were concerned our cell phones would be out of range during travel so my assistant was left with her son's phone number and promised to keep calling him.

That was the longest 40 miles of my life.

I look back on that 40 miles and the shame fills my soul. What a missed opportunity. See, this person, whose son was somewhere in NYC that day, was NOT a Christian. As a matter of fact, she was antagonistic toward professing Christians. I think, mainly because her son was a homosexual and she viewed all Christians as gay bashers. I did not know what to say. I tried to comfort her but it sounded like shallow platitudes of sympathy. I never even once mentioned truths that could have changed her life. I beg a Merciful God to forgive me.

She was very stoic during the drive. She talked of our meeting, where her son lived in NYC and the Cuban project he was working on at Columbia. As she talked, I was barely listening because I can remember thinking: This is going to change everything. But what, exactly? I do not know why I thought that but I did. (It is shameful to remember that my thoughts were of only me and my family at the time, not the lost soul next to me)

And what was worse, we had very little access to news because we were traveling outside an urban area and all we got was static. It was a very eerie and isolated drive. I thought of my 9 month old daughter and how far away I was from her. I made a conscious decision that day to give up traveling (Even though it took 4 years to make that dream come true).

About the time we were almost at our destination her cell rang. It was my assistant telling us, through static, that her son had called her back and he was ok. He was stuck with the foot traffic trying to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. He had stayed with a friend and was on his way to campus when it happened. Now everyone was trying to get out of NYC. The cell circuits were busy so he could not call. He was finally able to retrieve his messages and call back.

I will never forget what happened at that moment. This stoic, agnostic, college professor broke down into tears. The tears were falling off her face in torrents. We had no tissues in the car. She was wiping them off with her hands. Her hands were drenched.

I was overcome with the thought of the thin threads of life. Is he dead? Is he alive? Still, I did not speak of Jesus. Please God, I beg for your forgiveness!

We went to our meeting. It was strange. We went through all the motions. Everyone was subdued. We were strangers sharing a national tragedy. At one point, someone came in the room and said very quietly, "A plane hit the pentagon". Silence. Then back to the business at hand. A while later he comes in again to inform us, "They are jumping out the windows now". Silence. Then back to business. What is there to say? It was all too horrible for words and somehow everyone instinctively knew that. The world is crashing down around us as we discuss process and systems, lean manufacturing and quality.

We have yet to hear of Flight 93.

We finally headed back to the office. But there is a big problem. The police do not want to let us on campus. My car is there...I have to get home! Reason: The campus was located close to a very large Military Base and it was in lock down mode. The whole surrounding area was in lock down mode. The campus was closing. Lord, this is really serious. Where are You?

I was finally able to get my car, escorted by the police, of course. I flew home with the news at full volume. Even the traffic was different. People were harried but being careful, courteous. Life is fragile they seemed to say as we passed one another: Be careful. People who hate us are killing us.

I finally heard about Flight 93 on the news. Lord, when will it end. Can we take much more? I turn off the news. Should I listen for the trumpet sounds?

My husband calls: Where are you now? How soon will you be back in town?

I picked up my daughter, went home and held her to me. I prayed with my mom on the phone. My brother, who travels, called to say he was ok. Circuits were busy so everyone kept trying. What blessed voices answered all over this country to say, 'YES, I am OK'!

Or, the desolate sadness of, 'No we have not heard from her yet'.

Life is fragile. What is it but a puff of air?

Then I heard on the news that my church was having an impromptu prayer service that evening. So I went. I was amazed to hear the pastor ask all 5000 of us who showed up to get on our knees where we were and pray. That was a first. Everyone did. Old, creaky knees, young agile knees. They all bowed before our Sovereign Father. You are God. We are weak. You are strong. Jesus is Lord. People left the service in silence. It was not a day for talking.

I was shocked that soon after our campus opened, our college president, without shame or apology, invited those who wanted -to meet and pray. This is a college campus! About 40 of us, students, staff, management, faculty and the president showed up to hold hands and pray together. Everyone said a prayer. Amazingly some prayed for forgiveness for the wickedness of our country, some prayed for protection and some prayed for understanding. No one was offended. We were there for a long time, listening to each other's prayers while cars drove by and helicopters from the military base flew overhead.

Oh, that we would do that every day. On our knees. At church, at school, at work and at home. Oh Lord, that it would not take a crisis of that magnitude to know YOU are Sovereign and that life is but a mist that passes quickly.

Acts 20:26-27
Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.


Anonymous said...

This was beautiful. Thanks for sharing your heart.

Mark Epstein said...

Thank you for remembering this contemporary "day of infamy." I still wore the uniform of our Armed Forces when this unprovoked act occurred, and I will never forget the realization that our country was once again at war.

Lindon said...

Thank you for your service to our country.

My respect for the military grew from working near a military base. I got to know quite a few military families.

Some retired guys came to work with me as free lance trainers and were excellent! My corporate clients always requested them back.