Thursday, August 18, 2011

Knapsack 9-1

Notes From My Knapsack 9-1-11

Jeff Gill


A shadow on every clear blue sky



One morning at Scout camp, as we walked down to the dining hall for breakfast, another one of the adult leaders looked up at a deep blue, cloudless sky, turned to me and said "Every time I see a sky like this, I think of 9-11."


He's not the only one, is he?


Meanwhile, all around us were young men who were one or two or three years old on that beautiful September day. My own son has only the dimmest memories of watching his parents watching the replay that night at home, not of the attacks themselves and their immediate aftermath.


It's similar to the fact that I really don't recall when Kennedy was shot, but I have distinct recollections of watching the funeral in black-and-white with my quietly weeping mother, seeing John-John salute his father's casket as it passed (yes, I just turned 50, thanks for asking).


Joyce and I were more than three years away from moving to Granville, and she wasn't yet working at Denison, but I was driving to the college from Newark when I began to understand that something had happened that day.


The morning had been taken up with a lengthy board meeting at Second Pres for the jail ministry, and as president there were a number of dangling threads still distracting my thinking as I got into my car, and got on Rt. 16 to meet Dave Ball in Slayter Center before a Granville Ministerium meeting at noon.


So with my mind stuck between two projects, it only slowly dawned on me that while I had WOSU, the NPR station on my radio, I was listening to Peter Jennings of ABC. It wasn't until I got off at Granville Road that I started to wonder about the length of the news story, that was apparently about some kind of readiness drill in Washington, or New York.


It wasn't until I saw Swasey Chapel through the trees across Clear Run that I realized that, quite literally, "this is no drill," and that something unimaginable had not been imagined, but had happened. Today.


And once I parked and entered the lower level of Slayter, I saw crowds packed around the overhead TVs, made up of students for whom the skyline of Manhattan was part of their home landscape, and we watched together as first one, then the other of the World Trade Center towers fell. The murmured conversations came to a halt, then began as a halting attempt to find words which tended, for all of us, to trail off into uncertainty.


Dave and I went on down the hill to First Presbyterian, where our agenda for the day of housing and homelessness got set aside, and we planned a prayer service for that evening, not knowing yet even what we were praying for, other than peace.


I left for home, glad to have had a roomful of pastors to pray with, and to have borrowed the bones of what we planned there, to take back and use to lead a prayer service for the Hebron community. Not six hours later, I stood before as crowded a congregation as I would ever see inside that sanctuary, and leaned on those colleagues from a distance as I led us all in prayer.


We still search for words, and support, as we think about that day, now ten years on.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

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