Where were you?

It is September 11th, and the questions we inevitably hear today, as we remember the loss of nearly 3000 of our citizens in terrorist attacks thirteen years ago, are "Where were you?" and "What do you remember?"

It got me thinking. I was at work, as most of us were, on the morning of September 11th, 2001. I was in the basement of the community center where I had just been working for a couple of weeks. Some church groups had put together donations of paper towels and cleaning supplies for us and I was busy inventorying and coding the items. I was at Jubilee Project, a United Methodist Mission, and when the associate director came downstairs and told me what had happened I felt numb; frightened, saddened, and just plain cold all over. When she left the room, I approached a wooden cross that sat on a table there and I knelt down to pray. Words didn't come, but I am sure God understood my heart.

That's where I was. What I remember most from that day, and from the days that followed, was the sky. It was so clear. So blue. It was perfect.

I remember walking outside to go to the post office later that day and looking up at the sky. It seemed wrong that the sun was so beautifully bright. There were absolutely no clouds. I looked toward the north and it seemed to me that I should be able to see billows of black smoke, but there was nothing - just miles of endless, crystal blue, bordered by the ridges and mountains that contained the river valley. A few of the trees had just begun to turn - not many, but they provided a brilliant contrast to the azure expanse above.

The beauty around me during the long month of September stands out starkly in my memory. The trees, as they began changing; the sky, beautifully, fiercely blue, with only the occasional puff of cloud; the sun, buttery-bright and intense. All that loveliness in stark juxtaposition to the fear that plagued every mind, the sorrow that filled every heart. Each day brought new horrors - the attack on our country was followed by the anthrax scare. Rumors abounded; every city and even my little home-town heard stories about turbaned-travelers asking the way to bridges and tunnels or other elements of infrastructure. Of course, there was no truth to any of it, but I heard it everywhere, anyway.

Church bells tolled and called the faithful to prayer daily at noon as we observed vigils; moments of silence each morning as we recalled the times when the planes struck in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington DC, and later, when the towers fell. American flags flew everywhere. People bought enameled flag-pins, stickers for their cars, and yellow ribbons of remembrance. People stood in the streets and talked and a black pall hung over everything - and above it all, that impossibly beautiful blue sky.

Looking backward, it would be easy to ascribe the beautiful weather to the Divine. Did God provide such clarity of sky as a reminder that even when everything is dark, there is always light and beauty to be found? Or is it my own desire to find meaning in the meaningless that made me think it? Probably the latter - after all, the weather wasn't perfect everywhere that day. But I've kept it in mind often in the years since 2001; how much loveliness there was in the midst of so much pain.

As I face day to day challenges now, it is good to remember that when the darkest pall hangs over my life, somewhere above that, there is a clear blue sky, dazzling with golden sunshine. It is good to remember.

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