Under a Clear Blue Sky

September 11, 2001

It was a defining moment of a generation. Much like our grandparents when they thought back to the moment they heard about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It was like the moment our parents heard about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It was the shock and the horror of a nation.

September 11, 2001…


I remember it like it was yesterday…

Today it is twenty years since we learned of the horrific terrorist attacks on our nation. Much like Pearl Harbor, the JFK assassination, the Challenger disaster…it is a moment…a defining moment…a moment that stays with us. People ask, “Do you remember what you were doing…where you were..” and we can immediately respond. We can answer questions like this. I have no recollection of Pearl Harbor or JFK. I wasn’t born before WWII and I was a baby when JFK was shot. But the first defining moment it remember was 1986 and the Challenger disaster. I remember exactly where I was.

Fast forward to September 11, 2001…I can recall many of the details. It was a beautiful late summer morning in Upstate New York. The girls had gotten up for school and had been picked up by the school bus. Pam and James were over at the house. I had a Noon to 8 shift at Radio Shack to go to, but the next Sunday was to be “Salvation Sunday.” It was a denominational emphasis on preaching a salvation message. I had gone over to my office at the church to work on my sermon. Who knew the events that would unfold shortly?

Like I said, I was over in my office and about 8:50, Pam came over and told me that a plane had hit the one of the World Trade Center towers. My thought was that’s a little unusual. After all the weather was perfect – clear, blue sky, no clouds, no fog, visibility for miles. It was that way across the east coast. But at the moment I took it for a freak accident and went back to my work and Pam went back to the house.

About 5 minutes after nine, Pam came back over and said that another plane had struck the South Tower. What? On a clear, beautiful day? It became apparent that the first plane was not an accident and neither was the second. But what was going on? Little did we know the terror that was beginning to unfold. We watched as the images were played and replayed “for those of you just joining us.” When Pam came over and told me, I came back over to the house and watched it unfold. The images were replayed, when all of a sudden we saw new pictures – pictures of Washington DC and what appeared to be smoke rising from the Pentagon…the horror was not over yet…minute by minute we waited…our nation was under attack…from an enemy we didn’t know yet. How many planes were going to drop from the sky? We knew that three planes had crashed, but we didn’t know how many more there were.

I’ll never forget the moment that I watched the first tower collapse before my very eyes. I had seen the plume of smoke. Now what? Soon the newscasters announced the South Tower had collapsed. The tragedy was growing. How many more people would lose their lives. We were just adjusting to the fact that one of the WTC towers were gone, when we heard of another plane down – this one in the fields of western Pennsylvania. Apparently it had missed its target. At 10:30, we watched the second tower fall.

By that point, the FAA had grounded all planes and told them to land where ever they were – and the skies went silent. It was an eventful 1 and 3/4 hours. Like I said, I was scheduled to go to work, so around 11:30, Pam took me to work. Mike and I watched the TV’s on the RCA display. Needless to say it was a slow day…most people’s minds were on the events that had unfolded. However, we had a big day with cellphones and satellite dishes. People wanted to know what was going on.

It was all so surreal…under a clear blue sky.

Today marks twenty years since that event. Last night, we watched a segment on how people let their loved ones know. The final moments of Flight 93 are well documented – the voice mails – the phone calls. Those on Flight 93 gave their lives so that an intended target in Washington DC would be saved.

There were so many that day who were heroes – they never signed up for that job, but they were heroes nonetheless. Today we remember the day that was September 11, 2001

Let me finish with a poem by Michael Brooks entitled Under a Clear Blue Sky

A scene from out of a nightmare.

A plume of smoke stretching to the heavens.  Expressions of shock and horror on the faces of onlookers.  Stunned silence from officials and controllers.  All eyes riveted upon images of horror.




And over.

We watch in fascinated horror as the moment of disaster plays again on the screen “for those just joining us,” unable to tear ourselves away.

We hug our children and grope for the words to explain the thing that their innocence has been subjected to until we realize that our presence is what they need most.

Although the distance dilutes the flames, our hearts break as our spirits penetrate the conflagration that hides the human toll from our eyes.

Involuntary prayers follow the smoke on its upward climb, seeking to protect the souls borne heavenward on its billows.

Our pride.  Our confidence.  Our humanity.


In a moment.

In the twinkling of an eye.

Tuesday…under a clear blue sky.

The day the Challenger fell.

Another Tuesday…another clear blue sky.

Again, the smoke.  Again, the horror.  Again, the images.




And over.

Our pride.  Our confidence.  Our humanity.


In a moment.

In the twinkling of an eye.

Tuesday…under a clear blue sky.

Once again, we all know the answer to, “Where were you when…?”

In forced communion, we imagine the terror of those within the heart of the nightmare

Within the heart of darkness.

The confusion.  The uncertainty.

The choice.

Fall or burn.

For some…for most, perhaps…the choice is made for them.

As when the Challenger fell, we reach out to our loved ones.  We seek to make sense of the insanity.  We search out some sliver of good from the ruin and wreckage before us.

But it’s difficult…because it’s different.

Challenger was an accident waiting to happen…one that some anticipated, one that some tried to prevent.

But no one deliberately brought down the Challenger.

Yesterday was different.

Yesterday was not merely an attack on America, an attack on the government, an attack on policy.

Yesterday was an attack on civilization, an attack on the rule of law, an attack on humanity itself.

It was an attack on all of us…on each of us…no matter out nationality, our ethnicity, our creed or our color.

The question now is, how will we respond?

The Challenger crew embodied the best of humanity.

Yesterday’s terrorists embodied the words of humanity.

Will we now respond with the best…or the worst…of ourselves?

Tuesday…under a clear blue sky.

–Michael Brooks

Written on 9/12/2001 by Michael Brooks in response to the terror attacks on 9/11.  I used this poem for my sermon the following Sunday, 9/16/2001.  It was scheduled to be Salvation Sunday.  I thought this was a powerful reminder and tribute to remember 9 years ago today — 9/11/2001

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