Today is the 10th anniversary of 911. The images of that horrific day have been playing on television all week, but they have been replaying in my mind for a decade. No one will forget where they were September 11, 2001 when they first heard the news. I was at a breakfast appointment in downtown Mount Pleasant when I saw on the old television mounted on the restaurant wall the image of a tower hit by an airplane. In that moment, I did not realize the magnitude of what had just happened. I said goodbye to my friend and headed to the office. Over the next few hours, the shocking story would unfold. Our church staff gathered to pray. We were bewildered, confused, and deeply sad.
Then it got personal.
My family and I lived in central New Jersey from 1991-1997. I was an associate pastor in Princeton during much of this time. We knew many people who worked in New York City, some at the World Trade Center. We waited for news. The phone rang at about 6:00 p.m. just before our church gathered to pray. “Todd Beamer was on flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania.”
Todd and his wife, Lisa, were in the small group that Angie and I led. They were volunteers in the youth ministry that I directed. They were young and fun and successful. More than that, they were committed followers of Jesus.
The irony is that none of the people I know that work at the World Trade Center were killed that day. All of them were away from New York that day on business. Todd was a software salesman (a good one) who traveled a lot for work. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or was he?
Later we would learn of the heroic roll Todd played in fighting back against the terrorists and stopping their mission. The plane never reached its intended target (the White House), but crashed in an empty field. The last thing the phone operator heard Todd say (after reciting the Lord’s Prayer) was, “Let’s roll” – a favorite phrase of his.
Days later, I watched President Bush on television talk about Todd as an American hero, and then with a gesture, he introduced Lisa to the nation. She stood to her feet and was greeted with thunderous applause. She looked amazingly strong. Lisa is beautiful, articulate, and resolute. For a brief time, she became the face of hope for the nation. As she was interviewed by Larry King, she clearly explained that her strength comes from Jesus Christ, and that Todd, too, knew the sustaining eternal presence of God.
In addition to being the 10th anniversary of 911, today is also the first day of official NFL Sunday afternoon football. Todd loved sports. In between plays, I will gaze at my wife and kids and give thanks. Our nation will again gather around television sets today, but for a very different reason.
The first four televised games of the 2011 NFL season were specifically chosen to commemorate the events of 911.
*At 1 p.m. there is a game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore — midway between those two cities is Shanksville, PA, the site of the crash of flight 93, that Todd was on.
*Later in the afternoon there is a game between the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, played only a few miles from the site of the Pentagon plane crash/attack.
*This afternoon there is also a game between Carolina and Arizona, which will feature ceremonies honoring Pat Tillmon, the Cardinals player who left a lucrative pro-football career to join the military after the 911 attacks and who was killed in action in Iraq.
*Finally the Dallas Cowboys will play the New York Jets just across the Hudson River in full view of where the Twin Towers fell.
Whatever game you see it is a good day to hold hands with your loved ones as you enjoy the simple act of being together and watch a football game. Let’s roll.