September 11, 2001
I will never forget that day. I was awakened by our alarm going off, and it was set to KSL news radio. The first moments of awareness as I came out of a deep sleep I tried to comprehend what I was hearing. A plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. At this point the news commentary was full of questions – had it been a tragic accident? My heart was frozen with fear.
Although this scene was unfolding thousands of miles away from me, it very much played into the fears I was already living with from day-to-day. We had been told that God had revealed that it was time for us, as the FLDS people, to move to our “gathering place,” our temporary “Zion” in Short Creek. I had never wanted to live in Short Creek, and when this announcement was made I admit I struggled with it. But then the stakes were raised: we were told that it wasn’t a given that you would be allowed to move down. Your name had to be whispered to the Prophet as worthy of the privilege. Now I found myself in a strange position. I found myself praying with all my heart and soul to be found worthy to move.
For as long as I could remember we had been taught that the great, cleansing destructions were going to happen any day. The year 2000 was the for-sure cut off date, but they could come any time. We had been taught that they would hit first and hardest in the headquarters of the LDS church – as a punishment for their apostasy and turning against the most pure and exalted principles of the Gospel. Now, Uncle Rulon was having the word passed on to us, through his son Warren, that the great wickedness being brought into the valley by the Olympics was the last straw. The Lord wouldn’t allow such evil to be done in His sacred places without retribution. Salt Lake valley was going to be destroyed. “We only hope the Lord will hold off the destructions until we have a chance to get out.”
We were in the midst of this time of yearning for worthiness and protection that the attack on the towers came.
I lay there in my bed, wide awake, yet frozen with fear. We were listening to the radio when the second plane struck. There was no question about it now, this was a deliberate attack, it was no mistake, no accident. “Oh dear Heavenly Father,” my heart cried out, “please hold off the wars and destructions until your people can get out.”
We didn’t have a TV by this time, but I was riveted to the radio all day long. As the horrors unfolded, news became worse and hope was lost for thousands of people. My heart was wrenched. No matter what I had been taught about the “wickedness” of the “gentiles” I couldn’t help but think of all those involved. I didn’t know anyone who lived out there, my family and social circle was pretty small and local, or at least mostly isolated to the West Coast, but I felt such a loss as a member of the human family. I couldn’t imagine what it must have been like for those who were involved, who were touched by this horrific attack.
I was sick. In the end nearly 3,000 people lost their lives. That’s a huge number. And when you include the ripples that extend from those 3,000 people – how many lives their deaths touched – it was unfathomable. In recent years we had dealt with the loss of some of our own people and it was devastating.
I couldn’t help but realize, that as I prayed for deliverance, prayed for the destructions to be held off, prayed for protection for myself and my family, what I was fearing was going to be a reality for millions of people. We had been taught that both North and South America would be swept clean by the judgements of God. Through earthquakes, fire, pestilence – every horrific way to die you could imagine. Even though I had hope and faith that myself and family would be “lifted up and protected as the judgements of God passed over the earth” I couldn’t help but feel a deep, heavy sorrow for the lives that would be lost. I never believed that all of the “gentiles” were wicked. I knew too many of them to believe that. I struggled with the idea that they had done anything that would make them deserving of such a fate. They were, after all, my fellow human beings. Many of them were living better according to what they knew than people I knew who called themselves “saints.”
As the days went on I saw images and video of the destruction – both of property and of human life. I saw people who decided that jumping to their death was a better option than waiting for what was inevitable. I wondered how we, as human beings, reach the point where we are willing to commit such atrocities on our fellow man? I hope that I never understand. I have seen a glimpse of it, though. I have seen how seemingly little it took to get people to turn against each other, to abandon their own wives, their children, and families. “Normal” people who were convinced to do things that they never would have chosen to do on their own.
The only thing that can make so many do such horrific things is a belief that it is God’s will.
I have seen the aftermath of car bombs, suicide bombers, and shooters, and I would feel shocked that people could convince themselves that such destruction and harm was directed by God, but then I remembered what I was expecting to have happen. God’s destruction. God was going to wipe off millions of lives – was this such a far stretch for those who believe they are doing God’s work?