Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Jonathan Edwards on 9/11
Not until I wrapped up my morning blogging ritual did I look down at the corner of the screen in front of me and see the numbers that will forever carry specific reference for all of us--9/11. . .
I think yesterday was the first time I didn't wake up with those numbers in mind. When, at that moment, I saw them, I felt as if I'd somehow erred in not remembering. But the post was finished, so I shut down Google Chrome, got up from my chair, and went upstairs to greet the morning. I wasn't so much bothered as surprised I'd forgotten. But then, maybe forgetting was a good thing.
The truth is, I haven't forgotten that morning, will always remember, oddly enough, that it started with firetrucks just down the block toward school. When I walked to work, smoke was still visible upstairs in the big garage on the corner. I never heard what happened, but I'll never forget walking by and seeing a fire that was of very little consequence, a fire I remember probably because it happened the day the Twin Towers fell.
By inclination and habit, I went to school early, never felt quite prepared if I didn't put myself in teaching mode an hour or so before class. That day--September 11, 2001, a van was waiting to bring my class--classes, actually, two of them--out to Highland, a kind of ghost town, 15 minutes west of school, the only field trip I ever took with that writing class. I've told that story dozens of times, I think, retold it here again just last year.
But this morning, September 12, 2018, a day late, I'm remembering at least something of the rest of the day. I had three classes that Tuesday--two sections of the writing class that got ushered out to the ghost town. When we left, the first class knew nothing about what had happened way out east; by the time we'd returned, the second knew only the strange story of a jet crashing into a New York skyscraper.
"Dr. Schaap, did you hear what happened?"
The radio told the story all the way out there, but I still believe the silence all around us on the prairie that morning was a blessing, a meditative retreat, the morning of 9/11.
TVs were on all over school by the time we returned. For a few hours, I'm sure, I watched. I don't remember much else of that day except my last class, American Literature I. I'd thought long and hard about whether to call it off. When it began, I told students they could leave if they wanted, such was the gravity we all understood by early afternoon. But I also told them that the warning for America not to be deterred had made me believe that going on was the best way to fight back. So, we had class.
The Puritans--Edwards maybe, "Sinners in the Hands of Angry God." I don't remember exactly, but I know it was a particular lesson plan I enjoyed teaching every year when we came to it. I think it might have been Edwards. What I do remember is that it felt odd to be up there talking about 18th century New England, the Great Awakening, about justification and sanctification. It felt odd, yet good not to talk or even think about those two giant buildings collapsing on themselves, killing so very, very many people in New York City.
It felt right. That's what I remember.
When I first started teaching at Dordt College, we lived straight west of the campus. Most nights, I'd walk home late afternoon with a friend who lived a block short of our place. We used to glory in the classroom, really. We were both young and full of enthusiasm. I remember once when he looked at me and said, "Just think, we get paid to do this." We both giggled because even though teaching wasn't always fun, it was always a joy.
That particular class, American Literature I, on 9/11, a class I almost ended before it had even begun, was a joy, an especially good one, even though around us a nation was stunned and grieving.
There's a ghost town in my memory of 9/11, but, just as strangely, Jonathan Edwards was there too.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:55 AM