On September 11th, 2001, I knew that the world my children would grow up in had changed dramatically. Terrorism had been around for years, but in the past it was far removed; it was something that happened in other countries, to other people.
But now it was here, on American soil.
Deep inside, I was full of uncertainty. Was this just the beginning? Were there more attacks to come? We were on our way to Atlanta, a large city and a potential target. Should we go? Or should we stay hunkered down in our “safe” motel room and wait till an all-clear was given—if that ever happened? But I also knew that we couldn’t allow ourselves to be ruled by fear. If we gave in to fear and panic, then the terrorists would already have won. So we decided to continue on with our plans.
We spent that day in Jackson, Mississippi and took our children to the Petrified Forest and then to a local museum. Throughout the day, everywhere we went, televisions and radios were turned on broadcasting the latest news from ground zero. For the most part, the places we visited were ghost towns, very few tourists out and about. It reminded me of the day after John Kennedy was assassinated. Everything was quiet and everyone was in shock.
The next day we went on to Atlanta and did some more sightseeing. We stopped by CNN, but were told that they were not conducting tours due to the attacks. Then we went to the Coca Cola museum. They were open, and we had a good time. We tried as much as possible to give our children a normal day, but the specter of 9/11 haunted everything we did.
As I was preparing for this blog, I asked my son Chris and daughter Charlene what they remembered about 9/11. Neither of them remember much, although Charlene recalled that we made our son Chris lock all of his knives—he was an avid collector and usually carried one or two with him—in the trunk of our car. I had forgotten about that. I guess we didn’t want anyone mistaking a twelve-year-old for a terrorist.
A father’s instinct is to protect his children, to shield them from danger, from the pain and ugliness of life on this planet. It’s impossible to do that forever. I knew that sooner or later they would have to process the events of 9/11, much as I did Kennedy’s assassination. But I preferred that it be later, when they had grown enough to understand the words of another American president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
My children are grown now. Chris just finished a 5-year hitch in the army, helping fight the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11. Charlene is in dental assisting school and is launching out on her own. Their world changed on 9/11, just as mine did on November 22, 1963, and just as another generation’s did on December 7th, 1941. Each time, a generation lost its “innocence” and had to confront the harsh reality of living in this fallen world.
Now it seems that we must confront that harsh reality more and more often.
I have a three-year-old granddaughter now, and I can’t help but wonder if there is a 9/11 in her future. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I take comfort in knowing that God is still on the throne, our times are in His hands, and that through His grace we can face anything that comes our way.
Because “perfect love drives out fear,” (I John 4:18, NIV).