Where were you on 9–11?

I was playing music on the town square in Darlington, England.

The city is known for its flowers. There were gorgeous hanging baskets and photo-worthy arrangements all over the busy, pedestrian brick-paved square. Our Contemporary Christian band had just finished playing our setlist and started packing up — rolling up cables and packing the van with the drum kit, speakers, guitars in their cases, and my keyboard. We were hungry, and we spied a little café nearby. It caught our eye because it boasted “American Cuisine:” hamburgers, hotdogs, and fries (the Brits call them “chips”). We had just sat down at a table when one of our guys, who had still been loading the van, came running in. He had a cell phone in his hand. Not many of us carried cell phones back then. It was a flip phone — pressed to his ear, and a look of horror on his face. He caught his breath. “Someone just flew a plane into the World Trade Center.”

I didn’t process that. Was that somewhere in New York? Was it like Wall Street or something? Why was this so horrifying to him?

The restaurant was playing classic rock-n-roll music, but suddenly it became quiet. The waiter brought out a small television set from a back room and set it on the counter where we had placed our order. He flicked it on and played with the rabbit ear antennae until we got a clear picture.

There was a plane. The front half was sticking into an extremely tall building. There was a second building — a tower, exactly like the other one, and it was on fire. Everyone was panicking. And then, it was all smoke. We couldn’t see anything. When the smoke finally cleared, the buildings were gone.

My friend sitting next to me gasped. “Oh dear Lord….”

I didn’t process that either. What had just happened? Why were people so upset? The buildings fell down. Hadn’t I seen that on movies before? Or in a documentary about demolishing old buildings? Why was that so frightening? And then it struck me. Those buildings were full of people.

People having a normal day at work. People who had dropped their kids off at school, who had let their dogs out that morning before backing out of their driveways or walking to the train station and unknowingly taking one last commute to work. People who were loved by spouses and parents and children. People whose families would never be the same.

The rest of that day is a fog. At some point I found a phone and called my family. Then I remember setting up to play at a park in a nearby town. We were unrolling cables and testing microphones, but not really sure if we should play music at all. There was some talk of calling off the concert. But a crowd was gathering. A gentleman from the church that was hosting us found me sitting on one of our big black speakers, thinking. “How are you, flower?” he asked in his British accent.

“I think I’m okay. Do you think we should do this concert?”

“See all these people? They’ve come to support the Americans.” I looked up, and it was then that I noticed the flowers. As our audience had gathered, they had brought bouquets and laid them around the perimeter of our stage. It was a gesture of kindness I will never forget.

I suddenly had an idea. I thumbed through my binder of sheet music and chord charts, looking for a song we had thrown together a few months ago for a Fourth of July celebration back in Vermont — an arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America.” I can’t remember if we started that concert with it or ended with it that evening. Perhaps both. But along with a moment of silence for the victims of that day, and tears shed during the concert for the incomprehensible evil in our crooked world, it was indeed a prayer from our hearts that God would protect us, lead us, stand by us, even bless us.

God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her through the night
With a light from above.

What was your experience? Feel free to share your own story in the comments below.