*That number was what was being reported as estimated fatalities in the weeks following 9/11. It was later reduced to 2,973 people killed, including 246 on the four planes, 2,602 in New York City in the towers and on the ground, and 125 at the Pentagon.
Like most Americans, I will never forget where I was that Tuesday morning. I was at home, taking a day off work to spend with my three-year-old daughter. My husband was getting ready to leave for work, so I sat down to quickly check my e-mail while our daughter watched a cartoon.
As is my habit, I logged onto CNN.com while my e-mail downloaded. It was 7:57 a.m. in Alabama, and a photo of a smoking World Trade Center tower was on the home page. I turned on the radio, but the announcer didn’t seem to know what was happening. I went to the living room and switched to CNN just in time to see video of the second plane explode into the second tower.
That was the hour my world began to change.
Two weeks later, the images are still fresh. Every photo, video or memory of that day—from the airliner incomprehensibly disappearing into the second tower to a sobbing father holding a photo of his young daughter in front of a news camera—strikes me anew like an unexpected blow. Ordinary things, like my daughter’s smile or an off-hand comment made during a phone call, still leave me with unexplained tears, exploding emotions or a stifled sob.
Many say the world itself is changed by that day. Maybe it is. For me, however, it isn’t the world that’s changed—it is me.
Like the blind man Jesus healed with spit and dirt, scales fall from my eyes in droves. But I don’t like what I see, for I see a valley of death.
In this valley, I see Satan. His power to deceive is vast and deadly. If the deaths of 13 people at Columbine High School opened the door to this concept, the deaths of over 6,000* people in New York pushed me through. These men did not wake up one day and decide to hijack four planes and crash them into buildings. Satan used what he could—anger, pain, bitterness, torment, selfishness, religion—from the moment they were born . . . .
In this valley, I also see those whose eyes have been open far longer than mine.
The second Sunday morning after the attacks, the church I attend in Montgomery focused on their missionary efforts around the world. The guest speaker was a pastor from Peru. His ministry is primarily in the hills and jungles—an area, he says, which knows terrorism all too well in the form of the Shining Path, a ruthless terrorist organization. Everywhere they go, he says, they bring death and sadness. They do not understand the wisdom and knowledge of God, he says. “Those that cause pain and death,” he concludes, “are blind.”
An e-mail from an MB brother in India arrived about a week after the attacks. His words not only brought fresh tears but the stark realization of how blind I was to the true impact of the terrors being endured by my brothers and sisters in places like Congo, India, Angola and Indonesia. News from and about missionaries—who have given years of their lives to Afghani and other Middle Eastern people groups—leaves me ashamed and repentant. These brothers and sisters have known for a long time what I am only beginning to see.
In this valley, I am overwhelmed. I want to cover my eyes. I want to be blind again. Death, evil, deception, my own shame—these are too much to bear. But as I lift my hands to my face, I see Jesus, my healer, standing before me.
Now I know that we are not alone in this valley of death.
When I weep for a world that doesn’t know God, when I weep for the pain and anguish felt by those both on our soil and around the world, when I weep for my own failure and poverty of spirit, I suddenly find I am not alone. I never was.
“Blessed are those who mourn,” Jesus says, “for they will be comforted” (Matt. 5:4). The comfort is not a pat on the back, easy platitudes or even the promise that I will eventually stop feeling so deeply sad and helpless. The comfort is that he is God. Like the sun, he remains unchanged, always there, even when I can’t see him. Nothing—death, Satan, present, future or anything else—can separate me from his love and presence (Rom. 8:38-39).
I feel his kingdom expanding inside me, like a brilliant light shattering the darkness. Now there is light where I could see only darkness. There is strength where I felt only fear, shame and pain.
I still flounder and stumble, trying to come to terms with my new eyesight. I still mourn. I am wounded, both as a citizen of this country and as a citizen of God’s kingdom. But it is my citizenship in my beloved Lord’s kingdom that gives me a way to grasp the pain and walk through the valley. In this kingdom, I have comfort in the presence of a Person who holds the entire world—including me—in his unshakable grasp. And it will be this kingdom I will look to for answers when I leave this valley of death.
(Images: Sept. 11, 2001 by wallyg at flickr; Missing persons flyers outside NYU by romulusnr at flickr; Ground Zero Cross by Fatblast40 at flickr; Light by pikkus at flickr)