On Sept. 11, 2001, I arrived at French Drill shortly before 9:00 a.m. It was a Tuesday morning. The TV used for instructional videos was tuned to the news. A plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. As we watched, a second plane collided with the other tower. It looked like a video game. Our timid instructor, a graduate student, turned off the TV, and we had class. What else could we do?
After French, I left for Russian class. We were provided with only a 10-minute break, and I had to go all the way across campus. As I hurried, I ran into a girl from a Christian fellowship group. “Are you okay?” she asked in a concerned voice, touching me on the arm. “I’m fine,” I said in surprise. “But haven’t you heard?” I remembered the plane crash and realized it was something serious. “Ohh…yes, it’s terrible. But I’m okay.”
In Russian class, the instructor was in a bit of a shock. She had relatives in New York City. After we had all gathered, she told us to go home. Class was cancelled.
Back in my room, I turned on the news. I finally learned that they were calling it a terrorist attack. Gradually the reality of it hit me. Many questions were, and still are, left unanswered. But I understood the following: This was a premeditated attack, and had taken much meticulous planning, even years, and for some this involved the loss of one’s own life to ensure that others were killed. What hurt so much was not even the loss of the victims, but the fact that the act had been carried out deliberately. I wept a little, not being able to comprehend how such deep hate could exist, and could be directed at the citizens of my homeland. It’s such a strange aspect of the human nature, to be able to hate people whom you have never met.
A few hours later on the way to Art class, I stopped on the lawn where a prayer vigil was being held. I dropped to my knees and prayed for a few minutes. Someone had already put up blank banners where students could write notes with a black pen to express their grief. “Miss you, so-and-so,” “Whoever did this deserves to die,” and “Jesus Saves.” I wasn’t sure how people found comfort in addressing messages to no one.
The art instructor gathered us all together and said, “Go home, find some caring people and spend time with them. Forget about your sketchbooks and just bring them on Thursday.”
I went home, but the day wasn’t over yet. Back in the dormitory, my roommate didn’t want to watch the news. It was too upsetting. I got ready for the evening’s activity, which was an outreach project we had been planning for almost a year. To spread the word, we wore red t-shirts with the date of the event printed on the back: “SEPTEMBER 11TH, 2001.” I still have that t-shirt with the date immortalized. I had lost the desire to attend, but perhaps in the wake of the day’s events, someone would be ready to receive the Gospel that night. We assembled in the basketball stadium and one member of the Christian fellowship shared the Gospel. There weren’t a lot of people there-maybe because of the tragedy, maybe due to other reasons. But the event spurred many subsequent conversations that led people to Christ.
Then I was home at last, to mourn, to get in touch with loved ones, and…to do my homework.
On Wednesday, it didn’t feel right to go to class, but we did. In my second class we sat facing our professor, waiting to begin. “We have to go on with life,” he said. “If we stop, it will mean that they have won.”
And so, we grieved a little bit, and went on. In some way I hoped, amidst the tragedy, that Americans would wake up a little. I hoped that they would stop leaning on their earthly treasures and be shaken into searching for God. But I haven’t seen much evidence of that. I’m not sure what it will take to wake them up. I can only keep praying that God will reveal the work He has for us, and change hearts by His will.
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