Thursday, September 07, 2006

Where were you?

Like many, I remember precisely where I was. My wife and I were driving toward Indianapolis, across the rolling Indiana countryside. It was a bright Tuesday morning. We had the Christian music station from Champaign/Terra Haute on the radio. They broke in with the news.

A large airplane had struck the World Trade Center. In New York City, billowing smoke could be seen for miles. There was no word as yet whether the crash was an accident, yet I knew immediately that it was not. They went back to music.

New York is a big city: what were the odds of an airplane accidentally hitting the World Trade Center? Roughly zero. There were two towers. "There will be another plane, and it will hit the other tower," I told my wife.

No sooner had I said that than the news came that the South tower had been struck, and also the Pentagon. I pulled over to the side of the Interstate to pray. And now we come to the point of this story.

Before I got to the side of the road, Meredith Foster, then one of the morning voices at WBGL radio interrupted the newscast for a prayer. She asked God to intercede, that "the plans of the enemy be thwarted". It was chilling, moving, and inspiring: we would take the offensive.

After her prayer, and one of our own, I pulled back into traffic. I noticed in the sky perhaps a dozen jets, all converging on Indianapolis. Some were only contrails, others were clearly commercial passenger jets. The thought occurred to me that they were attacking Indianapolis, but the news said the FAA had ordered all planes grounded. All planes: it had never been done before. This was a bold move, one designed to thwart the plans of the enemy.

We heard later of a crash in Pennsylvania.

I don't know if Meredith offered her prayer before the FAA grounded the planes, or before the men of Flight 93 took steps to thwart the plans of the enemy. But I do know that her words set the tone for the rest of the day for me. Thank you, Meredith.

We went on to Indy, for a medical procedure that was made to seem trivial by the events of the day. Afterward, we stopped in to the Cathedral, even though we weren't practicing Catholics at the time. It seemed like the place to be. It was. The mass lacked Meredith's call to action, but it carried a peace and sense of unity that I still feel. We are one in Christ.

As we walked around Indianapolis, there was a subdued tone everywhere. No horns honked, no profanity arose from the drivers of delivery vans. The local newspaper printed a special edition with the banner headline "Terror!". They were giving it away, rather than selling it.

Toward afternoon, we started home. Some gas stations had begun raising prices, some as high as (a shocking) $3.00 per gallon. A lot of rancor was raised in the days following, outrage at the stations for "gouging". But the "gouging" was in response to people instinctively topping off their tanks: who knew what would be next? Were we at war? While some may have engaged in opportunism, it seemed to me that the stations were trying to retain their supply as best they could, with the only tool at their disposal, aside from closing: raising prices.

The strange thing was that though people were lined up at the gas pump in ostensible panic, there was a sense of calm. People were going out of their way to be polite and kind to one another. Each one insisted that the others have access to the pump first, so it hardly mattered who was up next. It just seemed the right way to act on that day.

That sense of calm, of unity, of peace and patriotism lasted long after that day. I still feel it now and then. And it all started with one woman's prayer.

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