Thursday, September 11, 2008

Inevitability

It is the seventh anniversary of 9/11/2001, and thus inevitable that I should post something. I begin with my memory of that morning.

We were working on the self-study for SACS accreditation at the technical college where I was teaching at the time; I was the chair of the steering committee and for some reason had earned the right to come in a little late. At around 9:00 I was getting in the car and heard Andy Napier, the radio host on WMBW, say that a report had just come in that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Two thoughts came to me, as probably to everyone; I am not that clever. Either a big plane had gotten off course because of drug use or wild incompetence of the pilots, or he actually meant one of those little planes. Either way, the idea of what was about to happen that morning never occurred to me. Fifteen minutes later I was at work, where there were TV monitors in the hallways, of course surrounded by students and faculty. Before long, a second plane had flown into the second tower.

I had a meeting with the Academic Vice President later that morning, a few minutes after the Pentagon had been hit. That was what finally made me realize that soon the White House, or Congress, or bases, or powerplants, could be hit. And perhaps they would have been. I went into his office; we just looked at each other, and I said, "All hell's broke loose." Uncharacteristic language for me. Four planes, four crashes, countless dead (it was thought 20,000 were in the towers at first), and millions mourning.

Not much work got done that morning. Not much for a week. I went to pick my son up from his school at the usual time. I suppose I should have run to get him that morning, but the one advantage of living in a town like Ringgold, GA, is that you have no fear of terrorist attacks there. He'd be safe at school; they were in lockdown. He had watched the news all day like most people. I went home with a urinary tract infection and laid on the couch in my misery and watched the towers smoulder. I listened to the broadcasters try to make sense of it all. Peter Jennings was the only anchor I watched in those pre-cable days (for us). He looked ashen, dazed, like everyone did.

Seven years later, I know one thing--we have not had another terrorist attack. It was common knowledge that we would. Bush has not been a great president, maybe not even a good one, but he is not the worst one we have ever had (what rubbish) and he should get credit for trying to improve public education (Clinton never touched that issue), for addressing AIDS in Africa (while Clinton let the genocide in Rwanda go on for two months), and for fulfilling his primary duty in the constitution, protecting us from enemies foreign and domestic.

9/11 will make me choke with tears for the rest of my life. It should. It will symbolize dozens of things for Americans. A loss of innocence, a birth of resolve, the beginning of the war, the end of assumptions, the heights of heroism, the depths of depravity. Patriotism could be real again, not a corny display or an unprincipled pose. For one fleeting second, I did think that all hell had broken loose, that something apocalyptic had happened. One day it will, but not that day.

In his acceptance speech John McCain had a significant conclusion. He told his story and said that he was no longer his own man, he was his country's man after his harrowing experience in Hanoi. And he said "Nothing is inevitable." What a line. I may have been the only person who heard it, but it has moved me deeply, it has altered my brain chemistry. Nothing has to be a certain way just because we are too lazy to fight it and too apathetic to question it and to scared to change it. It was not inevitable that McCain would die or give in to despair nor was it inevitable that Hillary would be president (as was assumed a year ago) or that Obama will be or that we will be attacked by terrorists again or that . . . Nothing has to be the way it's expected or the way it's been. We have choice. Isn't this what Victor Frankl taught? Isn't this what Christ taught, perhaps at a deeper level, when he showed us that we could choose our spiritual path? I need a daily dose of noninevitability, of what it means that my choices are not constrained and predestined.

So it might be inevitable that hundreds of thousands of bloggers like me will address this day. I'm sure some of the left-wingers have plenty of outrageous accusations and strident theories. What is not inevitable is that 9/11 will happen again.

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