Joy Comes in the Morning
by Jocelyn Green
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a 23-year-old single woman working in Washington, D.C., just eight blocks from the Capitol. We were in a staff meeting when the receptionist on duty burst into the conference room and blurted out, “They hit the Pentagon, you can see the smoke from the rooftop!” The woman beside me screamed (I learned later she knew a man who worked there), and I quietly fought the rising tide of panic swelling inside my chest.
Public transportation shut down and phone lines were scrambled. We were told another plane was headed for us (likely the one that crash landed in Pennsylvania). We were sitting ducks, and we knew it.
There was no safe place to go.
Throngs of people were streaming out of the buildings on Capitol Hill, running over each other to go who knows where- to get their children out of schools, to find their spouses, to go home. Fighter jets roared over the city, drowning out the sounds of chirping birds and casting ominous shadows on this otherwise cloudless blue-sky day.
Rumors were reported as news on the television. We heard that a car bomb detonated at the State Department, that the Fourteenth Street bridge had been blown up (which was our way to get across the Potomac River and get home). It seemed the whole world was falling down around us. The bustling capital of our nation became a ghost town as people left, thousands of them on foot.
That afternoon we came together as a staff to pray. One woman quoted Scripture in her prayer: “Weeping remains for a night, but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5). I remember thinking, How long will this night last before we feel joy again?
The Pentagon was less than a mile from my home in Arlington. I passed through it twice a day, up until that point, to catch a bus or a subway train. The attack on the Pentagon was an attack on my neighborhood. I felt violated. It was personal to me.
Driving home that evening (for some reason I chose not to use the metro system that morning) we passed by the Pentagon. The smoke from the fires was choking, even from inside the car with the windows rolled up. Fires still blazed, and would for at least a week- they kept reigniting themselves.
That evening, I took a break from watching the news and decided to mow the lawn. But this tragic event wasn’t something I could just turn off, when I turned off the TV. For as I pushed the lawnmower across the grass, I walked through clouds of swirling ash that had carried on the wind from the Pentagon. The air outside my home—my home—smelled like smoke for at least a week. Is it any wonder this attack felt personal to me? It happened in my back yard. I felt sick to my stomach for three days and cried until the well ran dry.
But at no point did I question the existence of God or have a crisis of faith. God was still God. And I still trusted Him. The terrorist attacks were evidence that we live in a fallen world alongside other sinners. And even as I mourned for those who lost their lives, and mourned for those of us who lost their sense of safety in their own country, I recognized that this was not the first time a terrorist had attacked. In certain parts of the world, terrorism occurs on a regular basis. How insanely selfish would it be for me to be OK with God while evil happens in other countries, but once it comes to my doorstep, to shake my fist at Him. No, my faith did not suffer, but my sense of peace did.
A dark cloud settled over my spirit in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001. My enemy did not have a face: it was grief and fear. People I used to ride the bus to the Pentagon with, I never saw again. I stared at the vacant seats while we silently snaked our way through traffic, wondering about their families, wondering if they knew Jesus and were in heaven, or not.
Every radio station talked about bomb shelters, anthrax, and other possible methods of terrorism. We rolled our windows down while driving over bridges, so if the bridge blew up while we were on it, we could escape the car while it sank in the river.
Standing in the subway station waiting for my train to come, we heard what seemed like an explosion not too far from us. I locked eyes with a stranger. No doubt we were both just as startled, both thinking about how dangerous a subway station could be if a terrorist chose to attack it. In moments like those we were no longer just fellow commuters, we were fellow Americans, bracing ourselves against our fears even as we tried to live life as normal. I know it sounds dramatic, but those were dramatic times.
Two weeks after the terrorist attacks, I went to a prayer meeting at a local church. I sat in a hard wooden pew, head in my hands when I heard floorboards near me squeak. When I looked up I saw a girl I went to college with! Here she was, looking so out of place in that somber church, with her eyes dancing and one hand covering her mouth to keep from giggling. Since I was her RA in college, we weren’t really friends then, but when I saw her then we hugged and stepped out of the church and into the sunshine together.
She had been working for her Congressman but wasn’t allowed back to work because of the anthrax scare (and clean-up) for weeks. So we had coffee together. Then a meal. Then I was going with her on all kinds of trips – Mount Vernon, Annapolis, the Smithsonian museums, outdoor concerts at Wolftrap.
Even after she was allowed back at work, the friendship continued. We went to New York City together. We organized monthly classic Movie Nights for other single women in the area. We hosted Thanksgiving for a dozen singles who had no place else to go. The dark cloud hanging over me lifted, and this friend helped me to chase after joy, to grab hold of it and not let go. We still knew life was forever different. I still walked past the National Guard with their weapons on my walk from the subway station to work every day. But I learned that I could still laugh and enjoy the good gifts God gives us. Life was still full of my favorite things. Joy came in the morning.
The terrorist attacks were intended to cause a crippling fear to take root in our country. But you know what? I saw Bible studies pop up in the offices of Senators and Congressmen where God’s name was not mentioned before. I saw people reaching out to each other. We prayed more. Acts of evil were met with acts of heroism.
And what man intended for evil, God used for good. I later learned that a man I went to church with had been in his office at the Pentagon directly above where the plane hit the building. He should not have lived, but God spared his life, and after he retired from military service he went into full-time ministry as a church pastor. Another man I went to church with, Brian Birdwell, was standing just two car-lengths from the point of impact in the Pentagon. He was burned over 60 percent of his body. He should not have survived either, but he did, miraculously, and now he has a ministry for burn victims, both civilian and military. (Read Brian’s story online here, and be sure to see his list of miracles from that day.) There are countless other stories of God’s hand during and after 9-11-01. The children who we tried to protect from some of those images on 9-11-01 are now fighting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. America is more full of heroes than of terrorists.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean we don’t experience pain. It means our story doesn’t end there. Joy comes in the morning–however long the night may be.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline you ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.
Psalm 10:17-18 ESV
About the Author:
Jocelyn Green is the editor of Wives in Bloom online magazine. Along with contributing writers, she authored Faith Deployed: Daily Encouragement for Military Wives, and co-authored Battlefields & Blessings: Stories of Faith and Courage from the War in Iraq & Afghanistan , which won the Gold Medal from the Military Writers Society of America in 2010. Visit her Web site at www.faithdeployed.com.