By Tom Ehrich

Where were you on 9/11?

I was in Gaithersburg, MD, with two colleagues, attending a technology training event. I remember it vividly.

We got to a TV in time to watch the second plane hit the World Trade Center. We had no idea what was happening, but realized right away that the world had changed.

We hopped into our Budget rental car to head home to Durham, NC, to protect our families. Rather than go through Washington DC, where a third plane had struck the Pentagon, we drove west and then south through Virginia.

We listened to National Public Radio the entire way, as they did amazing work to bring disparate strands into a coherent narrative. It was a banner day for NPR.

I found my family at a soccer game and was relieved that terrorist attacking hadn't reached this far.

That Sunday I was scheduled to lead worship in a small congregation north of Durham. I set aside the planned liturgy, brought in patriotic hymns, had a veteran carry the US flag in procession, and, in lieu of a sermon, asked worshipers to share their 9/11 experiences.

A curmudgeon at Duke Divinity School later wrote that having a US flag in worship, even on a day such as this, was simply wrong. I concluded he hadn't spent enough time with suffering people.

Then days turned to weeks, and weeks to months. Politicians swooped in for photo ops. A president used 9/11 an excuse for war. Air travel became even more disagreeable. The enemy acquired a name and a backstory. New York City became ground zero for a great outpouring of support.

The reality of terrorism has gotten more complex. Outbreaks of religious extremism, rage and ethnic hatred multiply. Our open society makes us vulnerable.

Our leaders struggle to keep pace. Many Americans have lost heart. Democracy itself is under assault at home.