Monday, September 08, 2008

Notes From My Knapsack 9-11-08
Jeff Gill

Seven Years, Uneasily Considered

That morning, as the heroic passengers of United Flight 93 began to roll their cart towards the cockpit, I was leaving a jail ministries meeting I had chaired through a long, weary morning, and drove towards Granville.

Peter Jennings was talking, I gathered, about some civil defense exercise on the radio, and then I began to wonder. First, it was too late in the morning for mid-half hour news to be on, and second, this was NPR and Jennings was the anchor for ABC. Huh?

By the time I rolled into the parking by Slayter Center up on campus where I was heading next, it was clearly time to think those words that belonged in history books or movies, but were very unpleasant to consider right in front of me: “this is not a drill.”

Obviously, my next meeting was toast, as we all stood and watched TVs in the commons area, many Denison students around me well versed in New York street names and numbers, as we watched the Twin Towers burn.

And then fall.

We hung onto our denial for some moments – “must have been an internal explosion of fuel,” “the dust sure does obscure . . .” and then we all realized, just before the anchor of the moment spoke the words, that the first tower had fallen. Entirely.

The shock and nausea had not quite sunk in when we saw the first footage of crowds running as if in 79 AD from Vesuvius in the streets of Pompeii. Just when that unimaginable scene had settled into a new category quickly summoned up in our minds, the second tower fell.

As we all know, the day’s terrorist acts were over, but the realizations and recategorizations were not. It did not seem like things were slowing or getting any better for days.

And as we all know, President Bush committed the biggest blunder of his eight years in office shortly after that. He asked us to “keep on shoppin’.”

Look, I understand the need to keep the economy going, and that stopping our economy was one of the goals of the hijack killer thugs, but it was an opportunity missed and more.

I thought of that again just last week on the campus of OSU-Newark, sitting under the bright white awning of the Martha Grace Reese Amphitheater, our State Sen. Jay Hottinger (Rep.) in front of me, State Treasurer Richard Cordray (Dem.) next to me, county elected officials of both parties in the crowd along with so many busy agency directors who no doubt had important business to conduct and maybe even some shopping they needed to do for their families.

But they took time out to help the honor and swear in the dozen-plus newest AmeriCorps members in Licking County and the region around us (and it’s “member,” not volunteers, not employees, as they just get stipends and an education grant on completion of their service).

Positive Balance, the financial literacy program that we’ve had going with AmeriCorps members for two years in our county, has worked so well the state has asked us to take it out to 20 more counties across southeastern Ohio. Actually, Mr. Cordray asked if we could do all 88, and Deb Tegtmeyer, our Executive Director, decided that we could only pull so many rabbits out of the Licking County Coalition for Housing hat. As board chair, I agreed . . . but who knows what the future holds?

What we both know is that this effort doesn’t work without people who decide to make some personal sacrifice for a greater good. AmeriCorps service is something like Peace Corps or Marine Corps or USAID service, and it is at the heart of what this country does best, and we need to do a little more of.

On September 11 of any year, that kind of “Let’s roll” towards service beyond self is what we really ought to honor, and what Americans will welcome being asked to do.

Yes, even more than shopping.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; ask him about Positive Balance or anything else at

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