Some events occur during our lives which have a significant impact on us. I still remember my first kiss, and the slap that followed. I was living in Lamesa, Texas, and was in the second grade. What was I thinking?
I remember the first time I saw some kid hit another kid in the face with a fist – Ozona, Texas, eighth grade. I could not imagine doing that, and never have.
Then there was the very long drive from Waco, Texas to Lubbock, Texas in a blizzard – December, 1961. The trip took twelve hours, and the heater in my car was not working. I was moving home to attend Texas Tech.
More important events I remember include the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was pulling into the parking lot of the Music Building at Texas Tech for my one o’clock choir rehearsal, when I heard the report on the radio. We were all in shock.
More recently, and on this day 13 years ago, I distinctly remember where I was when the twin towers in New York were destroyed by terrorists.
My wife and I had taken a twelve day cruise of the British Isles and Norway. It had been a delightful, magical trip, but, as usual, we were ready to get home to our family and animals.
On September 11, 2001, we departed Dublin, Ireland, and were scheduled to land in Newark, New Jersey, where we would connect to our flight home. About half way through the flight, we felt the plane slow down. I said, “Something is wrong. We shouldn’t be slowing down yet.” Little did we know how wrong things really were.
The Captain came on the plane’s intercom and explained to us that there had been an incident in the United States, the airspace had been shut down, and we were being diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. Wait! What? That was a long way from home, and not on our itinerary. The details were sketchy at first, but little by little we were told more about what had happened.
After landing in Gander, (we were the first plane of more than 50 that would eventually end up there) we sat on the tarmac for 16 hours. The two reasons for this delay were the fact that we were on an American owned airline, and that Gander authorities had to figure out how to handle over ten thousand unexpected guests.
At three o’clock in the morning, we were finally able to disembark. There was food and water available for free in the terminal; school bus drivers had come off strike, and were waiting outside to take us to our destination; and we were finally deposited in front of the Riverside Pentecostal Church in Glenwood, a small town outside of Gander, where we would spend the better part of the next four days. The members of the church had been preparing for our arrival for several hours, and had food, clothing, blankets, pillows, toiletries, and a big screen TV for our use. As we watched the collapse of the twin towers on the television, it was our first look at what had actually happened. It was a jaw-dropping moment.
We were very grateful for the hospitality shown us. Had it not been for the fact that we were bone weary, and possibly a little in shock, it would have been a pleasant diversion. There were a lot of congregational members present to ease our concern, but I distinctly remember one young member who has stayed in my mind. He was the pastor’s son. He was about ten years old, red headed, freckled faced, and with ears that stood out like satellite dishes.
Since it was a school night, I started our conversation by asking, “Shouldn’t you be in bed? Tomorrow is a school day.”
To which he replied, “Oh, no sir, school has been cancelled because of this event.”
“Well,” I said, in the most sincere tone I could muster, “We really appreciate everything you folks are doing for us.”
He stood tall, looked me in the eyes, and proudly said, “Ah, you’d do the same for us.” I certainly hope he was correct.