We moved to Mitchell, South Dakota (home of the world’s only Corn Palace!), in July of 2001. My new appointment was Director of Leadership Development for the conference, and the headquarters was there. Of course, moving with two teenagers meant that we had to go through the whole getting started in a new school business, and so that summer was spent getting used to the town, and getting in to explore the schools the boys would be at, and all the stuff that moving contained.
School started the last week of August, and the boys seemed to settle in pretty well, but then the news came of the death of Cheri’s grandmother. She died on September 7, and so of course we needed to go up that weekend for the funeral to be held on the following Monday. All of that went well, but we needed to leave right after the funeral to get the boys home for school the next day. After a six hour drive, we settled in back home, and got ready to do the “school thing,” as they only missed one day.
Tuesday morning, everyone was up, full of breakfast, and they hopped into the “dad taxi,” to be dropped off a little before 8, and I headed over to the office to see what I needed to do to catch up from my being gone a day. I remember it well – I was the only one in the office before 8 (not unusual), and as I started working, our foundation director came in, and announced that “some plane just flew into the World Trade Center.” I remember that my first reaction was “Boy – some air traffic controller is going to be in huge trouble!” I mean, of course it was an accident – who flies a plane into a building?
Except – they did, on purpose. The work for the day got pretty well scuttled, as we tuned in to the little television we had and watched the reports. It didn’t take long before we, and the rest of the country, saw the second plane crash into the second building, and then to watch the horrific aftermath, as the stories were told and the videos run over and over again in a continuous loop.
Somewhere along the way, the word, and the question arose as to whether Mitchell should evacuate the schools – as though somehow, Mitchell and New York City were similar targets for terrorists. Instead, they rolled in televisions in almost every classroom, and that became the lesson for the day.
September 11 in many ways became the fulcrum of American history, and perhaps the world’s history as well. Sure, there were other bombings and bombing attempts before 9/11, but just like the attack on Pearl Harbor, our national memory became about the time before, and the time after these events. I remember one newscaster saying that “we will never be the same again.” It seemed a bit dramatic, even with what happened, but sadly, he was right. I remember years before when our whole family flew down to Fort Worth to see my folks, and as we were back at the airport, the plane was delayed, and so my folks just sat at the gate with the four of us, just waiting to say goodbye. If there was security, we never knew about it.
Now, years later, we have spent billions of dollars on equipment and personnel to ensure a modicum of safety for those who want to fly. Shoes off, pockets emptied, x-ray machines, scanners, no water bottles or anything liquid. When I was in elementary school, every little boy carried a pocketknife – it’s just what we did. Now, we are given plastic flatware to eat an airport meal. Part of it is indeed security, but a large part is simply and purely fear. Where no one ever believed this could have happened, especially in America, now, most everyone believes it could happen again on all different scales.
It unfortunately did something more, and more insidious. It opened our collective minds to be suspicious. An entire race of people, because of the actions of a few radical, sick individuals, are now looked upon as potentially able to destroy something again. I recall talking with a colleague, a refined, intelligent, and very open individual, who confessed that he has to go through a mental exercise to remind himself that someone with a different name, or a different dress is not the enemy. That’s perhaps the saddest thing of all.
And so today we will go through the gymnastics of remembering, and there will be solemn speeches and reciting of names, and politicians looking suitably in mourning for something that happened 20 years ago. That pageant will continue, I’m sure, until the world grows old enough to have it become in the same far-distant category as the bombing of a harbor in Hawaii. Or the slaughter of some colonists in a square in Boston. Or any number of world and national tragedies that form our national memory.
I know in a large part that it is a necessary thing, and particular anniversaries always seem to be more poignant, but I do wonder how we ever move on. What do we do now? How do we live in both safety and risk, and reach out and not allow the tragedy of the past to infect and freeze our future? The American Spirit is claimed and admired, and I hope that we might never allow it to become just a little dim light, just a series of tears, but that, as Abraham Lincoln spoke so profoundly in the Gettysburg address:
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us-that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion-that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain-that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom-and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.
That is the hope I bring to this day. That is the hope I have for you. We have a great task remaining before us. A day like this is a perfect reminder of the work that is ahead for us, to be the nation under God.
God bless you today.
Word for the day: rutilant. Pronounced ROOT-ih-lunt. It’s a word rarely used nowadays, in part because we speak more casually. However, it has proceeded from a number of Latin roots, rutilantem, “reddening,” rutilo, “to redden,” and ruber, which simply is Latin for “red.” When something is “rutilant,” it appears to be glowing or glittering with a ruddy or even golden light. We look forward to a “rutilant sky at morning,” because it promises a beautiful day. By the way, the Latin “ruber” is also the root for words like “rubella” and “russet” and rouge and even ruby.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.