I was just a teenager when the planes hit the towers.
Only a couple short weeks earlier my parents had moved me into a dormitory for the first time, driving away to let me begin my freshman year of college. I decorated my room with photos from home and posters of the Teton Mountains, my new favorite place on earth after spending the previous summer working in Jackson Hole.
I carried an ancient, green Land’s End backpack – the kind with monogrammed initials – to my early-morning theology class on September 11, 2001. The professor, trying to play a video on an ancient VHS system, accidentally turned the television to CNN for a half-second while cuing up his tape.
In that half-second, we saw a replay of the first plane plowing into the North Tower.
“What a terrible accident,” the professor said, and pushed play on the video.
After class we spilled into the hallway to learn the reality–it hadn’t been an accident. Of course, you know the story: the crashes were deliberate, the loss of life intentional, and the North Tower just the beginning of the carnage.
Everyone on campus walked to the college chapel where we sat together, shell-shocked, and prayed and cried and made contact with loved ones in New York and D.C.
In the days that followed, we each strove to make sense of what had happened, of the day that would, as FDR said of Pearl Harbor, live in infamy.
A guy I’d struck up a serious flirtation with attended the Moody Bible Institute, a half hour train ride into Chicago from my school in the suburbs. The night of the attacks we spent hours on the phone with each other but didn’t say much.
“I’m thinking of joining the army,” he said. “There’s no way this ends here.”
Other students lined up at the blood bank, not knowing there would be more need for caskets than for blood.
A few left for home immediately, the feeling of being away from their parents at a time when the whole country was reeling suddenly becoming too much to bear.
No one knew what came next. More attacks? A war on American soil? A return to normalcy, whatever that might look like now?
Yet the words I clung to in that uncertain season were ones I often go back to 17 years later. I don’t even remember who said them – a friend, a professor, our college chaplain, perhaps. The face of the messenger has faded, but his message has remained. It was this:
In extraordinary times and ordinary times, faithfulness looks like faithfulness.
God calls us to be obedient in what he has set before us, whether the world around us is burning or going on as it always has. In seasons of war, we are called to love our neighbors and our God, to work for the reconciliation of the world, to strive for peace. In seasons of comfort and ease, that call remains the same, though the task may come with added challenges and a need for deeper courage still.
As the mom of young kids, sometimes faithfulness looks like an extra snuggle and bending the house rules and other times it looks like taking a harder line of discipline to correct a tiny wanderer.
As a pastor, it looks like preaching the word of God in season and out of season, studying, as Karl Barth once suggested, the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, but interpreting events from Scripture.
As a friend it looks like showing up, being vulnerable, and admitting when I’ve been too preoccupied with my own stuff to notice the needs of another.
As a wife it often looks like turning off social media in the evenings so I can tune in to the person I fell in love with all those years ago.
As a neighbor it may look like pausing to talk, to remember, to ask, to listen, even when I have a long list of errands on my mind. Even when we disagree politically or parentally or in how many hours it takes for us to roll in our trash cans.
Much of faithfulness is very, very ordinary. But that makes it no less faithful. In times of peace and in times of war, let us remain faithful to the one who called us.
Where were you on 9/11? How are you learning to be faithful in the midst of infamous days?