I thought it was odd that my wife was calling me on the classroom phone so early in the day, where I taught music at Penn View Christian School. Then it didn’t make sense what she was telling me. I tried to picture it, and the images in my mind didn’t come within a fraction of what I couldn’t see from my classroom, but the rest of the world was watching on television. All I could say was, “this changes everything”.
It was against school rules for a teacher’s spouse to sit in the classroom without being needed as a chaperon, or for some other purpose. But this was a day when all rules were off. Chrystal was 6 months pregnant with our first daughter, and we had to fight for every week of that pregnancy. We lived 3 miles from a nuclear power plant, the towers in our town, and though it might seem far-fetched looking back, at the moment it didn’t, to think that maybe the terrorists were about to attack our nuclear infrastructure. What was next? Who knew. As terrible as the towers were, we then learned of other attacks – Washington, and even Pennsylvania! So it was the day, the only day that Chrystal got in the car, drove away from the towers in our town, and headed 20 miles north to my classroom. And she sat safely in the back of my music class where I tried to concentrate on not letting elementary aged children know that our world had just become a very scary place. We stayed there that evening until we felt it was safe to go home, and it was the right thing to do.
Being a teacher at Penn View Christian School during the terrorist attack was unforgettable. We humans are cognitive thinkers, but we are also social thinkers. We think in groups, we process data together – always measuring our thoughts against what we see in others; so my reaction to that event was partly formed by their reaction to that event. Being surrounded by a group of pacifist Christians when we were under attack was an experience I will never forget, and I’m grateful to my Mennonite co-workers who helped me that day to process the trauma, the fear, the sadness, and the anger. They demonstrated to me in a new way what it means to have the mind of Christ in the midst of unspeakable evil. I’m forever indebted to the members of the Franconia Conference Mennonite Church USA for allowing me to experience the best of who they are in the worst of times. And on that day, this died-in-the-wool Nazarene became just a little bit Mennonite.
Of course, the dust began to settle that day. The horror set in to our collective conscience as we went about the task of discerning as a nation what it meant. I’m not sure if we’ve completely figured that out, it may still be too early to say. But I know this, I know that it’s important to tell the story, to remember the fallen, to recall the sacrifice and heroism, and to remember that death will never have the final word. Isaiah 25:8, “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken.”
The towers in our town never did fall. But we will never forget.