Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
JAMES W. PINDELL
New Castle, Indiana
James W. Pindell – a fiery 22-year-old who recently earned his masters degree in journalism from Columbia University – was born and bred in a small Indiana town called New Castle. Currently, he lives in Morgantown, West Virginia, where he ambitiously reports for The Dominion Post. On Sept. 11, James was back in his hometown. He submitted his essay Sept. 30.
I stood staring at a telephone pole. Like many of the poles around these Midwestern parts, the pole was brown, thick and sure to give many splinters if touched. The pole was rooted near a tree about a block from the stained glass window I kept staring out.
In a church pew, I stood with my father. We were there in response to an announcement that Friday, Sept. 14, be a national day of prayer in the United States. My father held white, single-sheet copies of prayers and songs like “God Bless America” that the 60 of us assembled here in this modest Catholic church were asked to sing. I, however, could not take my eyes off of the telephone pole.
I grew up in this church. I knew nearly everyone present. Mrs. DeSutter, who led a prayer, probably remembers me best for being such a pain in Sunday school. She taught my fourth grade class. You see, I thought Sunday school was quite dull and set out for, well, excitement. After a while, there was an informal group of us set out to sabotage any lesson plan.
Dr. Bowers has grown sick lately, and on this day he and his wife were in their characteristic spot at mass with his always well-groomed beard beginning to gray. He remains to be my physician even though I have well out-grown his pediatric specialty. Without a doubt he remembers my many cases of the flu and my case of chicken pox.
Sister Shirley led the mass. Since there is a shortage of priests in the nation, many nuns like Sister Shirley have been asked to run entire parishes. Her job is to do everything like control the budget, shape educational programs, greet newcomers, attend funerals, attend weddings, be a spokeswoman for the church, everything it seems except the most sacred of church duties, which the church feels inappropriate for women.
Luckily for her, she came to the church when I was in high school and missed out on my Sunday school reputation. In fact, she viewed me with pride and became a good friend. She knew me as the person that always came to mass and gave many readings in front of church. She knew me as one of the key members who got a church youth group up and running. She counted on me to speak at retreats and even be a keynote speaker to graduating high schoolers.
Folks here know me in different ways, but after the destruction earlier in the week in New York City and Washington, D.C., I was now the one they looked at to protect them and to preserve their lifestyle. No one knew then nor do they know now if the country will ask men to enlist or begin a drafting process to fight a war against terrorism without prototype.
However, in their worried eyes and strong handshakes, I saw myself differently then as a 22-year-old who was in shape and with some education – the qualities of a good solider. While leaving church, I shook hands quietly with a middle-aged man feeling a death sentence. Then, with a grandma and grandson, I felt a sense of holding more responsibilities than my father. And finally, with an older veteran, I felt possibly it was my generation’s mission.