A long, long time ago, I wondered in my personal journal what my generation’s Pearl Harbor would be. Frankly, I thought it would be something much more horrific than that Day That Would Live in Infamy — a doomsday scenario, with us and Russians lobbing warheads over the pole at each other. It was the early 1980s, after all, and that seemed like the most likely kind of event. Like so many others, though, when the fall of the Soviet Bloc took place in the late 1980s, I thought we were finally on the brink of acting like the human race I’d always aspired for us to be. Of course, there would still be strife and hated — there’s just too many different opinions out there on life, liberty and pursuit of happiness — but I thought that the promise of the Shining City on a Hill would be so uniting and so persuasive, it would be the kind of obvious human goal to strive for.
And then September 11th, 2001, rolled around.
I was sitting in a meeting at work, when someone said that a plane had crashed into a building in New York City. Obviously, that was a horrible thing to hear, but it was in that weird “spectator” state for those of us in the building. This was before cell phones with internet connections were ubiquitous, and really, all we had to rely upon was the word-of-mouth of folks who were just rolling into work, or folks who were looking at various news websites. By the time we were out of our meeting, it was obvious that something very, very traumatic had taken place, and I knew then that my generation had its Pearl Harbor.
I remember not being able to get any news in the building. Most folks’ radios didn’t work well in there — lots of concrete and RFI from all the computers — so the real lifeline was the internet. Of course, an hour or so into the tragedy, most websites were impossible to hit. If I remember right, CNN actually went down to a single, simple HTML page, trying to serve up simple, quick pages to a public hungry for news on what had just happened to us. As for me, I watched the news unfurl on the BBC website, as it was slightly less taxed than the domestic news outlets.
Upon finishing the workday, I came home, and watched the first video I’d seen of what had happened. It’s one thing to read about such devastation, but to see it unfold on a TV screen was truly surreal. Like many folks said on that day, it looked like a scene from some kind of Hollywood blockbuster. And I stayed glued to the TV the rest of the night.
Oddly enough, the thing that struck me the most about what I saw on TV that night was what wasn’t happening. Many of the “entertainment” networks — QVC, HGTV, MTV and others — suspended their operations, and either were hooked into a news outlet, or had a simple slide up, speaking of their support for the families of those lost on that day. I’d never seen anything like it.
Like many, many other folks, I was in shock. I wept, I prayed, and I tried to move on.
Fast forward to today, the tenth anniversary of that awful day. This weekend, I went to Branson for the semiannual Fiddlers’ Convention with some of the folks I play music with. I knew it was a special weekend because of the anniversary, but I also knew that I could find some solace in some of the most American music ever created. Last night, I joined the circle, and played out, for the first time outside the small group of folks that are my occasional musical circle.
I tried to keep up, and follow along as these very experienced players weaved music through the night. I really surprised myself, and think I did ok. And then, unexpectedly, there were two moments that really made the night memorable for me.
One of the guys that went to Branson with me broke into “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”. That old song is absolutely one of my favorites, and being a part of playing it in a small group was magical, truly magical. I was swept up in the music, and for the first time, felt like I was really a part of the music itself. I really don’t know how to explain it any better than that. And like part of a one-two punch, the circle started playing “Amazing Grace.” Yet again, I was struck with being such a part of this wonderful musical event. I heard someone on the radio this morning describing music as being something that could describe events using language beyond our daily ability to communicate. I’d have to agree, and that’s definitely what I was finding last night — comfort, and solace, communicated as more than the sum of the words that were sung and notes that played.
This morning, I began the quick journey back from Branson — just a few hours’ drive — and encountered a couple of groups marking the anniversary. The first was a group of motorcyclists, riding as a group on the outer road, sporting U.S. flags on the back of their bikes. The other was a long, long line of farm tractors making the turn off the outer road, each with Old Glory proudly displayed. This kind of display as I rolled across the hills of mid-Missouri reminded me of just how special our country is, and how poignant this date is, and likely will remain.
I’ve found myself trying to steel against the emotions of the day, and every once in a while, I’m caught off-guard by a gasp of emotion, a cry caught in my throat, inspired by things as disparate as hearing “Amazing Grace” played at Ground Zero as I was driving home this morning, to seeing a commercial featuring the Budweiser Clydesdales kneeling before the skyline of New York City. Through it all, I know that God will watch out for us — not because we’re so special, but because we’ve asked Him take care of us.