How 9/11 Defined My Generation

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The morning began like most mornings back then. I was 23 years old and working as an editor at an international Christian broadcast ministry. My sister was in high school then and she attended the school at the same place I worked. We often rode together.

I had the radio in my car tuned to WGN Radio in Chicago and the popular Spike O'Dell radio program. We pulled into the parking lot at about 8:25 or so, a few minutes before Spike was to kick it to news. Spike was talking about some topic, I'm not sure what, when the news director cut it in. I remember it vividly.

"Spike, we've got a report out of New York that a small plane has struck one of the World Trade Center Towers." He and Spike were still fairly nonchalant. They speculated as to why this happened. It was only about a year and a half removed from the tragic death of WGN personality Bob Collins, who had accidentally flew his single-engine plane into a local tower.

I stayed in the car for a minute. The news director cut back in. "Spike, um, there's a report of a second plane."

I turned to my sister and said, "Laura, this is terrorism." It's interesting that I thought this, because that word had not really been on our radar. It was a vague sort of news item that we might have heard coming out of Northern Ireland or maybe the Middle East, but nothing that any of us ever gave much thought.

But for some reason, I knew then that we had been attacked. One plane is an accident. Two is terrorism.

I raced into the media offices at our organization and flipped on the television.

I remember sitting there, camped, for most of two days. I watched it all. I saw the reporters covered with dust, befuddled for answers. I saw the anchors weep on air. I saw the towers fall, crushing the brave first responders.

I remember weeping many times over the course of the next several days. I read Psalm 46, which reminds us that God is our refuge in times of crisis. I attended and helped conduct prayer services.

We were a nation in mourning, a people on bended knee, suddenly humbled by our vulnerabilities. For my generation, 9/11 burst the bubble of safety we had experienced. No longer could we read stories about wars and problems "out there" and ignore them as if we were either blessed or immune. The conflict in the Middle East was now our own and the shape of the world mattered in a way that it hadn't before.

The national unity that eclipsed the country faded after a while and we began savaging each other politically again. Both parties found inventive ways to use our national nightmare to gain political leverage.

But the sudden and brazen attack by radicals on our own soil ushered in a new normal. The once-mighty United States was now as vulnerable as the countries around the world that experienced the horror of terrorism. We were now awakened to the threat of Islamic extremism, the tiny, but fatally vocal minority who wish to see Western civilization brought to its knees.

It was also a growing up moment for our generation. The 1990's had fattened us in our own self-indulgence. We convinced ourselves we were invincible, even impenetrable. We began to think America's greatness was because we ourselves were good, not that we stood for transcendent values.

9/11 gave birth to a newfound sense of love for country, one measured by the countless sacrifices of men and women who signed up to defend their country. We had a new set of heroes. To be a firefighter, a policeman, a soldier was in vogue again, thanks to the heroic sacrifice of these protectors on 9/11 and after on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.

It was also a growing up moment for the Church, as spiritual leaders awakened to the call to minister with compassion in their communities. Suddenly isolated Americans acknowledged the brevity of life and sought eternal truth. Many of today's great ministries, especially in New York, found their voice in the shadow of ground zero.

Ten years hence, it will take this same generation, matured by the horror of 9/11, to face America's new ominous threat. This time the attack is from the inside, as we face the mounting fiscal crisis, the consequence of our indulgent spending. It will take the same level of heroism, humility and courage we saw on 9/11 to tackle our fiscal problems, revive America's spirit, and protect the liberty we hold so dear.

Every generation has its share of tests. Let's hope God gives us the courage to face them as we did that fateful day in September 2001.