by Phil Miller —
Are you old enough to remember 9/11? (Are you old enough to recognize what that signifies?) I’ll guess you’re at least 22 years old if you answer “Yes, I remember.” For that was 18 years ago!
It’s one of those Big Moments, Big Pivotal Moments that changed so many things. I was on a Stairmaster machine in a gym in Fort Worth with a TV monitor up above and in front of me. I hadn’t been paying attention to the screen but the silent images caught my eye. “This must be a movie channel,” I thought, at first. The video of a jet crashing into a tall building played over a couple of times, and I decided, “This must be a simulation of something that could happen sometime.” Then I saw the newscasters with their alarmed faces and realized it was something that was happening, so I hopped off the Stairmaster and made my way to the shower and the dressing room.
As the details started to become clear, I picked up the phone I’d left in my car and saw that Paula had been trying to reach me. Our older daughter lived and worked in New York City, so she was our first concern. It wasn’t easy to connect with her because of the chaos and demand on telecommunication systems, but when I did, I tried to reassure her that this act of terror, to which she was an eyewitness, did not mean there would be fighting in the streets. “The terrorists kicked Uncle Sam in the shins and will now hide out for a while,” I said.
Eventually, I received mobilization orders to move to Washington, D.C., to work both at the Pentagon and at Air Force Headquarters. That was the start of a six-and-a-half-year active duty tour for me as an Air Force Chaplain. That’s one way it changed my life, and Paula’s, to be sure.
More important, it changed life for everyone in the United States, and not merely for Americans but for people worldwide as fear increasingly took the place of trust. It made going through the security at airports annoying and time-consuming. It worsened prejudices against Muslims and even against adherents of other religions, such as Sikhs. (Muslims, like Christians, worship the God of Abraham, while Sikhism is a Dharmic religion from India.) Long-held racial biases grew like toxic weeds.
Nothing good came from 9/11 as far as I can tell. Yet recognizing its impact on our lives and on the world around us adds emphasis to the urgency of our mission—to proclaim, in word and deed, wholeness to this terribly fragmented world.