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FIRST-PERSON: A day of trauma & tough questions topped by a vital history lesson

ATLANTA (BP)–It was 8:45 a.m. when the school bell rang Sept. 11. Quickly striding from the hallway to my classroom door, I looked up proudly as one of my students decked out in his Navy ROTC uniform snapped a hand salute while we joined in with the loudspeaker to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Moments later, I took a deep breath and silently prayed for a calm day; there was no way we could have imagined, however, that the country for which we pledged our allegiance was at that very moment under siege.

Incredible sadness descended on me throughout the day. It intensified each class period as I stood before dozens of teens and tried to answer questions factually, based on televised and website news reports that showed the massive destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City and at the Pentagon in Washington.

“Are we going to get drafted now?” one young man asked, after hearing a discussion on one channel about the need for bolstered U.S. forces. Squaring his shoulders to stand tall, I imagine he would go, if only there was a place to go.

“Do you think they will hit somewhere in Atlanta?” fidgeted another, whose best friend’s father had just been relieved early by military troops he said took over Hartsfield International Airport. That bit of information led to a discussion of personal rights versus the safety rights of all American citizens.

Finally, the essential question of the day: “Are we going to get out of school early? I heard they just closed Disneyland.” Well, school is no Disneyland and, the last time I heard, we had plenty of quality volunteers to protect the United States — so I squarely dismissed any rumors of leaving before the final bell. Plus, it seemed a little late in the day to begin to reroute buses and lunch periods.

The questions ensued, however, and by the end of the day I could already tell the students had made some significant strides in learning about democracy, terrorism and Islam. Their discussion showed me they understood the attraction for suicide bombers, the resolve of the United States to keep things functional (beginning with their school superintendent) and even some new vocabulary terms related to jetliners, rescue efforts, hijackers and politics.

And then, with each eye glued to the television screen to listen to President George W. Bush’s initial talk from a temporary Air Force One stop in Louisiana, we heard him urge his listeners to pray — and finally were reminded of one of life’s greatest truth: the power of prayer, especially for the thousands who have been impacted by an act of terrorism so unprecedented it will take most of us weeks and months to begin to comprehend.

No history book can teach a lesson so great as one we learn when we acknowledge our need to pray. No medicine can cure so great an evil as a man’s unredemptive heart. No amount of sacrifice can compare to that of Jesus who died for all mankind.

Prayer reminds us of not only our state of utter dependence on God, it should also serve to remind us of grace and the need for others to know him — before we are caught in the crosshairs of another mindless act that threatens to destroy our very world.
Hannigan is a national correspondent for Baptist Press who teaches high school English and journalism in the Atlanta area.

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  • Joni B. Hannigan