One of my favorite songs from the seventies is Gladys Knight and The Pips rendition of “Midnight Train to Georgia” That song takes me back to my boyhood in Osyka, Mississippi, where in the wee hours of many nights I would be awakened by the lonesome whistle of a freight train rambling up the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad from New Orleans to Chicago. We lived two blocks from the track, one hundred miles north of New Orleans.
Let me tell you today about the ride I had on that sad night of September 12th, 2001, from Richmond to Jacksonville on an Am Track train, and the consolation I received on the trip, as the train rumbled south a few miles north of Savannah..
My story begins on Sunday, September 9th at the Cranbury, New Jersey Presbyterian Church. Minora and I attended the Installation service of our daughter Paulette as Associate Pastor of the Church. At the reception we visited with our nephew Greg Young, who lives nearby and works on Wall Street in New York City. His work was only a few blocks from the Twin Towers, of the World Trade Center.
On Monday, September 10th, Minora flew back to Ft. Walton Beach and I boarded a train in Philadelphia for a ride to Richmond to visit my sister Madge and brother-in-law Richard Young in Harrisonburg. They are parents of Greg. Richard, at the time, was Chaplain of the Pearl Harbor Survivors. We had a great visit!
Early Tuesday morning Sally, daughter of Madge and Richard, called from Louisville to tell them, “Turn on the TV!” They did. The south tower of the Trade Center was hit at 9:03, The Pentagon was hit at 9:43, and the north tower of the Trade Center was hit at 10;03. A few minutes after that, flight 93, out of Newark crashed near Pittsburg. Madge, Dick, and I sat there watching and praying. Greg, in the meantime, had left work with the other workers, walked and ran, with thousands of others, to Penn Station. His wife Annette called and said he had called and said he was on his way home.
My thoughts began to turn to my family in Shalimar and how I would get home. I had a plane ticket from Dulles to Ft. Walton Beach on Thursday, but Dulles closed down indefinitely. Next, I thought it wise to drive back to Richmond and ask it they would allow me to drive the rental car back to Shalimar. They said I could not take it out of Virginia. I then picked up my suitcase and walked several blocks to the Greyhound Bus Station. They were closed and did not know when the buses would run again! So I took a cab to the Am Track Station, where I was told they may have a southbound train the next evening at 6:30.
I was there early the next evening, in time to watch the evening news. It was terrible! Scenes of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Pennsylvania were shown, along with the horrific scenes of suffering. People were interviewed. One person asked the question, “Where was God when all this happened?” This question would haunt me for about the first eight hours of my ride on the night train to Georgia.
A week or so earlier this train would likely have been filled with many happy young people on their way to the beaches of North and South Carolina, Georgia, or Florida. They would have been having fun! But it didn’t take me long to realize that this would not be a fun trip! The train seemed to have been loaded with sad, heartbroken people who just wanted to sit quietly and reflect on the terrible events of the past two days, and, for some, pray.
America had been attacked by an unknown enemy! Thousands of Americans had died horrible deaths! Thousands of innocent people had been left widows, widowers, fatherless, or motherless. Truly this was a “night” train! Darkness had fallen on our nation! The lonely train whistle blew as we rolled out of Richmond into the night. It would take some twelve hours to travel the 670 miles to Jacksonville.
Once again I began to be troubled about the person’s question, “Where was God when this happened?” I began to think of the various verses from Scripture that might answer this troubling question. It wasn’t until we neared Savannah that I began to think of Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to preach good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the broken hearted.” Luke mentions this in Luke 4:19(King James version). This has meant a great deal to many, including myself..
I said to myself, “That’s where God was when the Towers fell! He was out there working alongside the heroic medics, firemen, and police, binding up broken hearts as they bound up broken bodies. And He was with the sad rabbis, priests, and pastors later in the day as they delivered messages of death to the survivors. This brought me much condolence! God was not sitting by idle in Heaven, indifferent to America’s suffering! He was down on earth, in the midst of the survivors, “binding up the brokenhearted!”
Around eight the next morning the big train rolled into the Jacksonville Station. Soon I rented a car and was on my way to Shalimar!
Looking back over nearly five years since 9/ll the testimony of many widows and other survivors of 9/ll verifies that God truly was among the wounded in spirit, binding up the brokenhearted. God enabled them, in spite of their wounded spirits, to bear their losses, and to live again!
God is still “healing the brokenhearted!” To make you and me grow spiritually and to help make the world a better place, God gives to each of us both the duty and the privilege to ride with Him, assisting Him as He “binds up the brokenhearted”.
Though many broken hearts have been healed since 9/ll, still there are many, many, brokenhearted people in this world! Most of these suffered no loss in 9/11, but today they may be suffering from one or more of many possible problems. The main one may be that they have done things they knew to be wrong in the eyes of the Lord. They may have lost a loved one. They may have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. They may have lost their wife, husband, or child. They may be involved with an addiction they feel unable to handle. There are many things that can cause a broken heart!
In my case, as a young boy, it was caused largely by Papa’s “drinking problem”. His heavy drinking likely was caused by the lost of his business in the Depression, and then my two older brothers fighting in WWII. His drinking caused Papa to cause heartbreak in the lives of Mama, my brothers and sisters, and myself.
Thanks to the Lord, who “binds up the broken hearted” and two men friends, Dr. Wilton Biggs, an old, blind physician, and Dr. Charles Guice, our pastor, Papa’s heart was bound up! And, in time, Mama’s heart, my sister’s hearts, my brother’s hearts, and my own heart were “bound up.”!
About five years later, in 1949, I felt the Lord was calling me to “ride with Him” full time by serving in the ministry. Finishing high school in 1951, college in 1955, and seminary in 1961(I served as a navigator in KC97s after navigation school, from 1956 to 1958), I was ordained in 1961 and completed forty-five years in the ministry in June, 2006. I served as an active duty Air Force chaplain for seven years and a reserve Air Force chaplain for twenty years.
My prayer on this fifth anniversary of 9/11 is that it will never happen again! But we can look around us and see countless broken hearts. Thank God, the Lord is still “riding among us”. And He wants our help. Let us then, in the words of Todd Beamer, “Let’s Roll!” Let us “ride with the Lord” on His missions of healing broken hearts!