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The 19-inch TV

By September 11, 2016 9 Comments

by Andrea DeWard

The 19-inch TV was a surprise gift from my parents at high school graduation. Every Thursday night that next fall its modest screen filled a modest dorm room on the third floor of Timmer Hall. Suitemates sank into an overstuffed couch and others folded their legs onto the carpet to watch the debut seasons of Friends and ER.

My first TV moved with me to my first post-college job. Its laugh tracks lightened the loneliness of a one-bedroom apartment in an unfamiliar town. When my groom joined me in the cozy living quarters, we navigated the first year of newlywed compromises with the remote control.

Now its bulky form perched on top of a cluttered desk in our seminary townhouse, offering the occasional brain break from our immersive graduate studies. On that particular Tuesday morning, my husband went to his 8 AM class while I stayed home, tidying the place before an insurance agent would arrive to answer the question of the day: should two sem students, carrying considerable liberal arts debt, purchase health and life insurance?

I turned on a morning show while I picked up or wiped down the messiest parts of the main floor. Program segments and commercials played without my attention until a McDonald’s ad cut to a live shot of billowing smoke and grave voices, in stark contrast to the usual bubbly banter of the hosts. The little TV had been a trusty companion for the past seven years but now…now…I couldn’t, didn’t, or at least didn’t want to, trust what I was seeing and hearing. Confusion and concern escalated in the anchors’ voices as together, whether journalist or viewer, we witnessed a purported one-plane accident explode into a two-plane attack (and later, three- and four-plane).

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble(Psalm 46:1, NIV).

The rest of the morning is a blur. The schedule of my day was quickly eclipsed by the surreal timeline of events being broadcast. The antenna received a small number of channels though it could have been just one; every station, every click of the remote, showed nearly identical images and video feed. Perhaps the angle or the voice varied, but all looped fire and smoke, first responders and sirens, fear and shock.

My husband came home, sober, telling of the impromptu prayer gathering at the seminary. We were a couple weeks into our second year of theological education. We stared at the TV, numb, silent. No amount of schooling could prepare a pastor for this.

At some point the doorbell rang, expectant salesman on the front steps. We had nearly forgotten the planned visit. How can anything normal take place? There was no small talk, only the small screen revealing previously unimaginable scenarios.

How many of those thousands had carried health and life insurance, just in case? Just in case they encountered major medical emergencies. Just in case they suddenly died and left their families. And how many had not, because what are the chances? Yet within hours, those who escaped with injuries would be asked for their cards, their numbers, their coverage plans.deward-2

At some point others would frantically search for family and friends in every ER, the specifics around death policies rising as a dreaded topic in the coming weeks and months. There is simply no comprehensive and adequate way that ER personnel or insurance companies could prepare for something of this magnitude.

At some point my husband and I divided our attention between the 19-inch TV and the 8.5-by-11-inch paperwork before us. Just in case.

Be still, and know that I am God(Psalm 46:10, NIV).

It’s been fifteen years. Our kids are twelve and eleven years old. The events of 9/11 are a history subject to their young minds. They have learned about it as such in school but without exposure to the raw sights and sounds of the actual day. And they don’t regularly see anything like it in terms of brutality; we own a TV (graduated up from the old 19-inch) that we use for Roku and Netflix, but we don’t have cable, and we don’t watch the news with them.

We intentionally choose to discuss all manner of awful and hard topics with openness and candor. We intentionally choose to limit the barrage of gruesome images and details the media feeds to a viral world devouring hate and violence and abuse like a casual midnight craving.

deward-3This past June, though, our family traveled from Michigan to Boston and New York City for our kids’ middle school class trip. They had reached an age where they could handle with relative maturity the full breadth of this painful “history lesson.” The National September 11 Memorial and Museum was humbling and devastating and haunting and beautiful. It displayed courage and horror and despair and healing.

It was hard. I watched with silent tears as my two beloveds stood stunned, mouths and eyes opened wide before the progressive video footage. Even fifteen years ago it seemed like something out of a movie, and with the CGI they were accustomed to as digital natives, they struggled to comprehend its visceral reality. They lingered over the pictures, the quotes and captions, the dusty and charred artifacts. I saw the wrestling, the somberness, the anger that comes with greater knowledge of terrible things you can’t un-know, can’t un-see. I cried for all that was lost on September 11, and I cried for this world the next generation is inheriting.

The Lord Almighty is with us(Psalm 46:11, NIV).

Some things just don’t come with instruction books. Not for pastors, and not for parents. Tears and prayers and wisdom and grace and listening. We offer these things while fumbling, discerning, trying again. We take another step, give another hug, ask for more faith, speak some more truth, show some more compassion.

Today, do whatever God leads you to do in honoring and remembering this day. Pray, cry, listen, share a story, offer an embrace, teach about love and the courage to do what’s right. Choose to see and feel, and choose to do your part in bringing hope and healing wherever and whenever you are able. Grace and Peace to you.


Andrea DeWard is a pastor married to a pastor parenting tweens. With ADD. Now say that really fast 4 times. Exceptionally present in the moment, running late for the next, shining in a crisis, overshadowed by the daily grind. Naturally, the mantra “We have to work at this daily” hangs prominently in our family’s home. I’m an introverted Enneagram 4 who loves being up front speaking to new audiences (one of these things is not like the other?) I write consistently on my iPhone and sporadically on my blog at with the simple guiding principle GoShowLove. Grace abounds.


  • Jan says:

    Andrea, thanks for this important perspective on this day.

  • Gloria McCanna says:

    Andrea – Thank you for this post and especially the challenge to “do whatever God leads you to do….”. I used some of your words at a Remembrance Service this morning in Fishkill, New York. Peace be with you.

    • Andrea says:

      Thank you for sharing this, Gloria, that is a humbling honor and I’m grateful the words could help others in their own reflections of this anniversary.

  • Diana says:

    I lived though it as a resident of NYC. The smell will never leave me. I thank you for your writing and your pilgrimage to the site. As for me, I will never, ever go back to see what has become a tourist destination. I know it is honorable but it is also a burial site. Sacred space. Just my thoughts as one who painfully remembers.

    • Andrea says:

      Thank you for reading and sharing your reflection Diana. Those who saw and experienced these events first hand will always have that tragedy embedded in who they are and their stories and life lessons are so valuable. Though much healing takes place, something like this changes you and the place of trauma will remain something unique, different to residents than most who visit subsequently. I am grateful though for the incredible care and respect that was put into how the Museum was designed to be experienced. It felt like sacred holy space, an opportunity to honor, and to deepen empathy and compassion and conviction to help make our world a better place. May you feel grace and peace today Diana as you remember such a hard time of life.

  • Diana says:

    Thank you. I hope I wasn’t sounding critical of the well intended efforts to honor, remember and provide healing and instruction for those who visit.
    That being said, I have just always pondered other places of historical pain… Gettysburg, Normandy, the atrocious ovens in Germany, etc. Those places have been,more or less, left alone. Quiet and respectful. I know that NYC needed to move forward with a 1776 foot tall message to the world. I have set aside hoping for something more sincere.
    Thanks again for a great article.

    • Andrea DeWard says:

      Yes, I can see how both help someone reflect. Going inside a concentration camp would offer one kind of experience and visiting Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center – in Jerusalem offers another. Both quiet and respectful, one feeling the weight of the place, the other telling stories in pictures, letters, newspapers, personal items, etc. I would say my first visit to NYC 9 months after 9/11 was the first kind, standing on a platform overlooking the clean-up efforts. There was a makeshift memorial – messages written on wood railings, laminated “missing person” posters, photos of the dead – and a hushed tone, feeling the heaviness of the place in its destruction. But walking through the Memorial Museum in June was also quiet and respectful and felt very honoring, not touristy or sensational. It felt very personal, remembering the real people, not an abstract historical event. It brought a connection to both those who had been in the planes or the buildings, and those who died because they chose to go toward the danger to serve at the risk of their own lives. The object that stands out the most was a banged up, burned fire/ambulance truck. It was an immersive experience, much like my 2 visits to Yad Vashem, and I felt it was done with extreme sensitivity and thought so each life would be shown value and remembrance.

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