Sep. 12, 2005: September 11 Reflections: Watching Good People Do Good Things

I spent Sept. 11 where I should have. I was in church — specifically, Wesley Memorial Methodist Church on St. Simons Island. I had to be there.

I was at St. Simons on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terrorist attacks occurred. The Glynn County United Way had invited me to address their annual campaign kickoff. It was a truly enjoyable experience that showed the best of the American spirit. People were excited about the campaign and the opportunity to do good for those less fortunate. I was proud to be a part of the effort. Five days later, a group of madmen decided to kill several thousand innocent people for no reason other than they assumed we were weak, decadent and easily frightened. They were wrong.

As I watched the horrifying scenes on television that day, I looked out on a near-empty beach where a mother walked aimlessly with a toddler. The devastation and destruction in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, all the evil that caused it was in stark contrast with this young woman who had no dog in the terrorist fight, and no doubt just wanted an opportunity for her child to grow up free and without fear. I watched a smug comic named Bill Maher call the terrorists “brave.” I wanted to yank him out of the television set and beat the hell out of him. I heard Ted “Looney Tunes” Turner say roughly the same thing, but in his case I just considered the source. Turner always makes about as much sense as wings on a walrus.

That is why on Sept. 11, 2005, I turned down an opportunity to play golf with my friends. It has been four years since the attacks, and I still have too much anger in my heart and am in constant need of a spiritual kick in the pants. That is why I was in church.

I had never visited Wesley Memorial before. I found it a friendly place chock-full of young families, which belies the claims of the pointy-heads who say mainstream religion is dying. Wesley Memorial is very much alive and well, thank you.

The minister, Rev. Tim Steffen, made one reference to the terrorist attacks during his sermon, referring to those who had died on that day and on the days to follow as “heroes.” Amen to that. Much of the service was devoted to how the church is responding to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Church members talked about collecting “health kits” and donating “flood buckets” — one person even writing, “We are praying for you” on the side of one bucket — and organizing a trip to New Orleans to assist with the restoration. No doubt, similar scenes were being repeated at houses of worship across the country. I wanted to drag publicity-seeking politicians into the church by the nape of their necks and make them sit and listen to what ordinary Americans are doing to help one another — not for political advantage but because it is the right thing to do. Fortunately, the good people in this country — black and white — far outnumber self-serving politicians who seek to take advantage of human misery for their own political purposes. Be grateful for that.

What I witnessed at Wesley Memorial were kind and caring people, more interested in their fellow human beings than in partisan political hyperbole. A Sunday morning church service is no place to take a poll, but had I asked the members how many give a flying fig about what the New York Times, Washington Post or Tim Russert think about anything, I suspect it would have been nigh on zero.

I came home from church and saw the beach full of people enjoying themselves on a beautiful autumn afternoon. Lots of laughter. Lots of noise. What a wonderful contrast to four years ago. As for me, my next visit will be to the exquisite little Georgia Sea Grill on St. Simons Island, where I intend to ingest massive amounts of corn-fried shrimp. Life is good. People are good, and I thank God — and my late and beloved mama — for reminding me there is no such thing as too much church.