Contrasting Skies of Blue…
I remember that day well, twenty years ago, when we were awakened from our peaceful slumber and felt wrath fall upon us from the skies, the hate of a little known enemy, an enemy that most of us did not even know we had.
It was a beautiful clear day that Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was in a St. Louis hotel room with my business partner and friend Patrick, getting ready for a day of meetings with several clients from St. Louis to Indianapolis. I remember the sky how beautiful blue it was outside the large window overlooking the city. I had the television on and was watching Good Morning America, when all of a sudden ABC’s programmed schedule changed as anchors Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer started addressing what appeared to be some kind of accident at the World Trade Center in New York City. They speculated on the explosion that took place, that it might have been an aircraft off course. How were they to think different? We were a nation at peace, the vast majority of us never having any thought that our aircraft could be weaponized by terrorists.
I remember the first views of the burning tower with smoke billowing through the windows and walls, that it was against a beautiful blue sky just like the one outside of my window. In my mind and heart there were probably blue skies to be seen by every American looking up from shore to shore across our great land. It was a darker day than we knew.
Patrick and I went in the elevator down to have breakfast. The number of people gathered around the television was more than normal, as we watched coverage from CNN of this burning tower. I was standing by Patrick and talking to another friend David over the phone who was traveling with us but in Kansas City at the time. He was watching the same coverage.
“That is not a small plane and it’s flying to close.”
Suddenly, to our view on the television screen, we saw another aircraft enter from the right, the reporters speculating that it might be a small observation plane. I pulled the phone down from my ear and said aloud to both Patrick and David, “That is not a small plane and it’s flying too close,” as it disappeared into the building, flames shooting out the other side.
Gasps and exclamations echoed from the television, throughout the room, and from the other side of the phone line. This was no accident. This was a vile act of war thrust upon us in our vulnerable peace, a peace that we had no reason to doubt, brought on by an enemy who works in darkness. My heart sank as disbelieving tears fell from all of our eyes. It was only the beginning of a very dark day of contrasting skies of blue.
My next phone call, was to my Monica as she was just getting ready to get the kids out of bed for school. I said, “You need to turn on the news, and you should keep the kids home from school today. This is going to be a very hard day.” My heart strings stretched long and strong in connection to family and home in California.
The day went on. We checked with the clients whom we were scheduled to see and most wanted to go ahead and have our meetings.
“We are at war!”
The streets were eerily quiet as we traveled throughout St. Louis listening to updates on the radio. Next the Pentagon was hit. I said to Patrick as I drove with tears clouding my vision, “We are at war!”
We met with clients, always hearing the television playing in adjoining rooms where it seemed most everyone was gathered wherever we went, eyes peeled to the screen in hopeless anticipation. It almost seemed a relief for those with whom we met, that somehow things might be normal, life might go on. Feelings of disbelief, feelings of sorrow, feelings of near blind anger, feelings of fear, folding over one another, as none of us really knew how to feel. What contradictory emotions were brought on in this day of dreadful tragedy.
Downtown St. Louis was especially quiet. Police blockaded government buildings, and around the high-rises there was hardly a stir. As I went up to the top of one of the highest buildings in the city to visit a client I had not been able to reach, I learned the plane he was aboard returning that morning had been grounded in another city, just as all other commercial aircraft nationwide. I have never seen such an empty office building, almost to an end of days kind of feeling as I spoke to the only person on the top floor. When my business was concluded I moved quickly back down the elevator.
Then the towers fell and our hearts sank deeper. How could this thing happen? How could this be? All of these innocent people, just going to work, just living their lives, and all the firemen and police that tried to save them. As those towers broke so did hearts, a nation of hearts breaking for all those lost or who lost, not just innocence lost, but fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and friends.
Then the towers fell and our hearts sank deeper.
We heard about Flight 93. Their heroism saved many who would have been lost. A bright bitter moment in an otherwise day of senseless loss.
We met in a deli/bagel shop with Angie, a friend and client in Terre Haute, Indiana. We hardly saw the person behind the counter as she sat on the floor and watched the television out of our view. We heard the scenes playing out over and over again as we tried to focus on the day to day reason we had traveled so far from home. It was near impossible, but I think a welcome distraction for all.
On the radio we had followed the movements of President George W. Bush all the day long. He had started his day reading to school children on a Florida campus. How his day changed in a moment as he held his composure in front of the little children while learning of the first tragic events. By the time he left the room the government was in action and on the move. Air Force One became the command center for a nation.
As government leaders were sequestered in Washington DC due to the perception of continuing threat, Air Force One carried the President of the United States to Nebraska for safety and active strategic planning. He was there for a time, but as all other aircraft were grounded, and the threat of further attacks subsided, on that Tuesday afternoon President Bush determined to go back to the White House. Once again the nation’s 747 was eastern bound to restore the President to the Oval Office where he would lead the nation into tomorrow.
A sweet peace and calm settled, for us the first such moment of the day, as we knew that we, the two of us, our families, our president, our nation, were in God’s hands.
As Patrick and I journeyed north/east in our rental car on a near empty I-70 toward Indianapolis, about half way between Omaha and Washington DC, the wide sky clear blue without clouds or typical jet trails, our hearts rent from a harrowing day, we noticed out the left side of the vehicle an aircraft to the west. With haste we stopped the car. On the side of the road we stood in reverent silence as we watched Air Force One carrying the American president safely home. We watched it from horizon to horizon until it disappeared from view. A sweet peace and calm settled, for us the first such moment of the day, as we knew that we, the two of us, our families, our president, our nation, were in God’s hands.
As Moses counseled Joshua, “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
On the day of blue skies clouded by the smoke and dust of heinous violence, enemies I knew not before with weaponized aircraft bringing terror, peace restored to me only by a lone jet trail against another blue sky, and victims cradled all in the outreached hand of God. The Lord’s Spirit speaks comfort, “…be not afraid of your enemies, for I have decreed in my heart, saith the Lord, that I will prove you in all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:14).
Let us know peace, and when there be no peace, let us know comfort in the promises of the Lord that we need not fear enemies known or unknown, for the Lord God goes with us. May we all rely on Him, as He has invited us so to do, to provide blue skies and hopeful days, even in our darkest hours, as we follow Him. May those we lost be never forgotten and with us find eternal joy and peace, as in Him always. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.