I remember waking up the morning after 9-11, expecting to hear bomber jets flying overhead. Though it is unlikely that Durham, NC would ever be in a flight path for U.S. war planes, I wasn’t sure what unthinkable pandemonium I should be preparing for in the wake of the terrorist attacks on our own soil. I was a new freshman in college, far away from the security of my home and family. I had spent the day before huddled around the common room television in our dorm, watching the instant replay of the twin towers collapsing into the Manhattan cement.
There were whispers of which students had parents who worked either in the towers or in the surrounding blocks. We waited with them, our collective breath held, wondering how the news would unfold in the coming days. Would the phone call be a huge relief or a nightmare come true? With Duke’s freshman orientation week a fresh memory, I was still trying to find my way around campus and figure out when and where to find my classes. Suddenly, it seemed as if the whole world had turned upside-down.
Eleven years later, watching reports of new conflicts and assassination, in northern Africa as well as continued upheaval in Afghanistan, I still experience echoes of that same anxiety I felt on September 12, 2001. The details have changed over time, but the underlying fear that the world might one day unravel completely, always lurks right beneath the surface.
These past few days, besides the extra rockets that were hurled our way in “celebration” of the anniversary of 9-11, our biggest concern has been a new trash burning pit erected on the perimeter of our camp. For the last week, as the winds have picked up in the evening hours, thick smoke has enveloped our camp, causing a plethora of physical symptoms as well as a growing panic. The air quality has always been bad on Bagram because of burn pits which destroy the hundreds of tons of trash created by the 40,000 some odd people who live on our around our air base. Watching a plume of smoke spread angrily into the sky day after day, not even 200 yards from some our housing units, has made many of us wonder just how bad the health repercussions will be for us.
Last night, as I fretted about the cancer I knew I was developing and tried not to breathe too deeply so I wouldn’t choke on the lingering smoke, I realized the one thing I had not done in these days of worry-- pray. In the midst of my woes, I am often surprised to remember that I can always pray. One would think that a pastor would not so readily forget this powerful resource, but I do. I have been indebted though, especially throughout this year of deployment, that there have been many others who have remembered. Friends and family from every one of my life’s seasons have uttered prayers on my behalf. On many days, reminders of their prayer through emails, facebook messages, and letters, have made a remarkable impact on me, helping me cope better with the chaos unfolding around me.
In some ways, it will always be September 12th, a day when it feels as if the world is coming apart at the seams as well as a day when we discover that life goes on despite the uncertainty. We wake up, get our kids off to school, do our work, tend to our chores and between all the running around, attempt to love one another as best we can. As life swirls around us, we remember that there is very little we can control. We have been given a gift of life, without any guarantee of number of days or even moments. Spending time preserving this life is a natural response to the harsh reality that our time is constantly running out.
Yet, I am grateful for the moments when I realize that vain attempts of security simply take away from living life well. Whether it is a plume of smoke or any other darkness which threatens us, in the midst of our worry, in glimpses of grace we remember God’s presence which is steadfast and true. We have been promised good things. Even when I am afraid, I know that this promise will still be enough.