Log in Newsletter

Still Encountering 9/11


By Rev. Kelli W. Taylor

I first encountered 9/11 with my colleagues in the upstairs hallway of the Burgess Student Center at Spartanburg Methodist College in South Carolina, where I served as chaplain. We stared at the TV, listening to the live national news report, each of us in shock, disoriented, trying to make sense of it all. We considered the potential impact and needs of the campus even while the terror was still unfolding. Our instinct was to take care of the students and to help them feel safe and secure in the midst of uncertainty.

I encountered 9/11 a second time when later that same day I was called to the dorm room of a freshman student. She was awaiting news of her father who, on his regular schedule, would have arrived at his office in the North Tower of The World Trade Center shortly before 8 a.m. Our vigil lasted three days. At 11:30 p.m. on Sept. 14, her fears were confirmed: her father had died in the attack.

I encountered 9/11 a third time in 2002 in the church where I served as associate pastor. I placed my hand on the head of the infant son of Capt. Dan McCollum, a 28-year-old Marine father and first South Carolinian casualty in the war on terror. There was a poignant amalgamation of grief and hope as Dan McCollum Jr. was baptized into the church and then placed back into the loving arms of his young, widowed mother.

I encountered 9/11 time and time again over the next 15 years or so, listening to stories from students, soldiers, families, both U.S. and international, whose lives are still marked by the surreal horror of that day. I hold their stories in my heart, grateful for their courage and for confidential space.

Twenty years later, I still encounter 9/11 in every divisive social media post, in the coercion of the most vulnerable, and in the hatred that continues to kill and destroy. With each encounter, I recall Mychal Fallon Judge, chaplain of the New York City Fire Department, who prayed over bodies lying in the street and then entered the North Tower. Judge was killed when a piece of debris struck him in the head. Author Michael Daly later recounted that “at the moment of his death, Judge was repeatedly praying aloud, “Jesus, please end this right now! God, help us! God, please end this!”

Whenever and wherever we encounter 9/11, may those words be our prayer.
Kelli Taylor is VP for Religious Life/Community Engagement at Methodist University