September 19, 2014

9/11 — Uncertainty

2001
“Did you guys hear this on the radio?” my friend Paul says, walking into the office to start a new day at work. “They’re saying some guy flew a plane into one of the World Trade Center towers.”

The rest of the office buzzes while I imagine some nut-job daredevil with a Cessna in a stunt gone wrong.

A few minutes later, another employees shows up for the day. He lives nearby, saw the news that morning and has now brought his television set up to the office; sets it up in the break room.

I try to do some work. There is, after all, work to be done, and I hate to break my routine. I’m online with my friend Sean, who’s at his workplace in a city 1600 miles away, and we’re instant-messaging back and forth as soon as we hear anything new on either end. Keeping each other posted.

There’s a muffled, startled shout from the break room and I rush in to find my coworkers clustered around the television, watching a replay of the second plane making impact.

Then it starts to set in. The magnitude. I become aware that I am watching history, and that life in this country will never be the same.

My son was born twelve days earlier, and later that morning my wife and I take him, along with our toddler daughter, to the doctor’s office for a newborn checkup. No one knows what’s going on; all we know is panic. The doctor’s office is on lockdown–a three-story building and the only way in or out is the front door. We can’t stop talking about the events of the morning, and a fear of the unknown creeps in and settles like a choking fog over our conversation.

That night I stay up until 2:00, 3:00, watching the news, hoping for some clarity, something certain. The only thing that comes is exhaustion, then sleep on the couch as the planes hit the towers on an endless loop.

This is the new world we’re living in.

Uncertainty.

2008
Seven years later and I’m flying to England to do some ministry. Yes, I’m nervous to be on an international flight on September 11, but it couldn’t be avoided and so fly I must. We land without incident, but the next day I get bad news from my wife back in the States. Our long-awaited international adoption will not be going through. We’ve spent the last three years working to adopt, but the road ends now.

We had started our adoption process prayerfully, and now it was over, cut short suddenly, the opposite result of what we’d expected. We were sure it would all work out. But now?

Uncertainty.

2009
One year later and our world is completely different. We live in Uganda now, in a small, touristy town near the source of the Nile River. Our friend calls us in the middle of the night and asks us to pray. She’s been listening to the radio and has heard about rioting.

The morning light brings fresh reports, confirmation. Rioting has broken out throughout the capital city–tribal sovereignty viciously colliding with a nominal democracy. The young people of Uganda, voiceless, trying to get international attention. Streets are barricaded. Vehicles set on fire. Robbing. Beating.

The military is called in and starts firing indiscriminately. People are killed.

Radio stations shut down. Journalists jailed and beaten for taking pictures of the scene.

All is chaos.

Uncertainty.

2011
The theme continues. I am once more a freelance writer, a career choice thrust upon me after having been “discharged” from my brand new job less than a month ago. Exactly three months ago to the day, my wife and I were held at gunpoint in our home and robbed.

Everything is up in the air, and nothing feels settled.

Uncertainty.

And yet.

“…In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Those words stick with me. They are the promise I cling to in this uncertain world. This place where I have to explain to my children, year after year, reminding them what happened in 2001 and why September 11 is a sacred day in our nation. My kids will never remember the pre-9/11 world. The time when life seemed to feel more stable, more secure. More certain.

But they know the promise of Jesus. So do I.

And isn’t that all I need?

Comments

  1. A phrase from Scripture that comes to mind in contrast to the uncertainties of life is “the sure mercies of David” (Isa 55:3). The certainties of a loving, sovereign God offered to a world unsure of itself and its future. Thanks, Adam, for turning our eyes to solid ground.

  2. Randy Thompson says:

    To get out of bed in the morning is to enter the realm of uncertainty. We assume, daily, we know what’s coming, and usually we do. But, it is only an assumption, and a presumptuous one at that.

    James tells us: “Come now, you who say, ‘today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’–yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘if the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’” (James 4:13-15).

    Whatever certainty we have is rooted in that phrase, “if the Lord wills . . .”

  3. I enjoyed reading your post, and my heart goes out to Americans as September 11th comes around again, ten years later. However, I must challenge your last musings that “My kids will never remember the pre-9/11 world. The time when life seemed to feel more stable, more secure. More certain.” I know many others joke about Americans using the words ‘world’ and ‘America’ interchangeably, and I’ve met those inter-changers. I also know many Americans who understand that way before 9/11 The World – and America- lost its innocence … and even within the last 100 years there was Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, Rwanda, Cambodia, Burma… the list is long.

    Certainty and security are a very rare luxury for people living in 2-thirds of the world. I wonder if certainty has become one of the modern-day altars of the western church. Our children have no more a right to certainty and security than do the children of Somalia…

  4. Michael Spencer had several good articles on the subject of certainty. I think Christians try see certainty in life rather than meaning. Life will never be certain this side of eternity. Certainty and meaning are not always congruent; quite often certainty robs life of meaning. In this life you will have troubles…but [in spite of uncertainty] take heart!

    I often reflect on Albrecht Durer’s engraving entitled, “The Rider” depicting a knight on horseback flanked by death and the devil. The eyes of the knight are not focused on death or the devil, but straight ahead. In spite of the risks, in spite of the uncertainties, in spite of our weaknesses and failures, life has meaning, calling, and direction, because of the cross.

    • Many evangelicals however believe their faith will bring certainity. A + B = C. This is where a person can reach a tipping point in what they believe. Imagine if you do everything you are taught, in every formula, list, method, etc.. and the results are not what was promised. It can be a gateway to disaster.

      • I was watching the PBS special last night on religion and 9/11. Many of the testimonies were of people who reached that tippingpoint.

  5. Adam…

    I think uncertainity is going to be the “new order” in so many ways. I’ve nervously watched the economy, and credit crisis. That weekend Standard & Poorer downgraded the United States…you could not peel me away from the computer. I was researching and wondering..what does that mean when the stock market opens on Monday.

    Uncertainity is the new normal for many people, and I wish that were not the case.

    Speaking of Uganda…have you seen the new Book of Mormon musical by the creators of South Park? ;-)

    Mormon missionary – “Uganda…where is that?”
    Mormon missinary President “Africa”
    Mormon missionary “OH BOY!!! Like Lion King!!” (lol) Oh well Hasa diga eboweii!!! :-P

  6. Okay…what happened with Jeff’s post? It was here and then it disappeared.