September 11, Twenty-two Years Ago

As everyone who was in the area remembers, September 11, 2001, was a clear, shining day. Not so memorable, perhaps, is what it was like to live in the world before the iPhone. My wife, Susan, and I were even less connected, having eschewed television. Thus, when I drove her to physical therapy at St. Francis Hospital in Poughkeepsie, we knew not what was going on.

I left her there and headed for Marist College, where my ethics class was meeting at 9:30. I had turned on the radio and soon learned that a plane had flown into a building in New York City. (I think now that it was the second plane.) Although the drive was short, I heard enough to reckon this was going to be big.

My students were all there, ready for class (as ready as college students can be at 9:30 in the morning). I had decided to say nothing about the planes. They said nothing about them—if they knew. We had a normal class, which is my instinct: Class time spent on the timeless is worth more than timely discussion in the long run (and we would have been speculating without any knowledge at that point). At the end I told them something had happened that morning, something closely connected to ethics, and that we would be discussing it when we met on Friday.

I joined my wife for the end of her therapies, and we spent the rest of the day in that odd quiet space that I’ve oft imagined is like the eye of a hurricane. . . .

My ethics class was different that semester. My students had the acquired reflexes to think in relativistic terms. About some ethical claim, they would say, “That might be wrong for you, but for someone else it could be right.” They had been trained to be sensitive to people who had different opinions and beliefs; and indeed, it is a good thing to try to get inside other peoples’ minds, to see things as they do.

However, for the rest of the fall of 2001, whenever someone would make a relativistic comment, another student would say: “But flying those planes into the Twin Towers was wrong.” Something new in our lives had happened: We had seen a horror perpetrated on a large scale not far from home. We had a point of reference for something that was wrong, period. . . .


    The above is extracted from a column I wrote for the Human Life Review website. For the whole column, go to:


    Out & About. This Sunday, Sept. 17, I am to preach at St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Dallas, at 9 and 11:15am.

    On Oct. 8, I will lead the Good Books & Good Talk seminar in a discussion of Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. Anyone who reads the novel is welcome to the conversation: at St. Matthew’s from 5 to 6:30 p.m. And if you haven’t read it, you’re welcome to come and listen.


The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: