Meet Me In The Smoky Stairwell, I Was There... A Heartfelt Tribute on 9/11

by Mark Klages , Christian Examiner Contributor |

National September 11 Memorial in New York.

The phone rang—I was driving northwest on State Route 223, having just delivered a load of aluminum in Toledo, Ohio on my way to Muskegon, Michigan to pick up forklift counterweights. It was my wife, calling at eight fifty-three a.m. to inform me a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember our conversation today as clear as if it just happened. I told her to sit down and watch the news for more details because a plane doesn't just crash into the World Trade Center. While we were on the phone, she watched the second plane strike the South Tower.

September 11, 2001 is a day that most Americans remember well. Many adults can tell you exactly where they were when they first heard the news, saw the first photograph or video, or received the first call. Most kids who were at least five years old can recall something of how their teachers or administrators handled the attacks. President George W. Bush captured the hearts of Americans everywhere when he concluded his speech that afternoon about four planes, four tragedies, four attacks that took the lives of over 3,000 loved ones.

In the weeks and months that followed, Americans found their voice in song and poem to describe their experiences that day, now seventeen years ago. Stacey Randall wrote what is arguably the most famous poem of the time, titled Meet Me In The Stairwell (I Was There).

"I was on the 110th floor in a smoke-filled room with a man who called his wife to say 'Goodbye.' I held his fingers steady as he dialed. I gave him the peace to say, 'Honey, I am not going to make it, but it is okay...I am ready to go.'...

...I was on all four of those planes, in every seat, with every prayer. I was with the crew as they were overtaken. I was in the very hearts of the believers there, comforting and assuring them that their faith has saved them...

...I will be in the stairwell of your final moments."

Stacey's poem is so poignant and yet for the last seventeen years since one of the worst tragedies in American history, people continue to ask, "Where was God then and where is God now?" Americans ask that question every September 11th and after every major tragedy—hurricanes, mass shootings, wildfires. "Where is God!" they cry.

God is in the same place today that He was during the terror attacks of September 11th 2001, during hurricanes Katrina and Andrew, in the wildfires of California, at Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas, and at the Orlando Night Club. God is in the same place today that He was when Jesus sweat droplets of blood in the garden, when Daniel slept with the lions, and when Jonah was in the belly of the whale. God is in the heart of every believer and waiting to enter the hearts of every non-believer.

We say the cure to what ails America today is to let God back into every place we've banned Him from. We call for prayer in school and to let God back into our classrooms. We call for the Ten Commandments to be displayed in the courtroom and we cry foul when Christians get arrested protesting murder at abortion clinics, saying "Let God back in!"

Reader, God never left.

God did not walk away from schools when the Supreme Court ruled against God in 1947. Despite what atheists might want us to believe, God is still in our schools. God did not abandon the people of the Gulf Coast during Hurricane Katrina or South Florida during Hurricane Andrew. God is still with the survivors. God did not take a step back from Manhattan and allow terrorists to kill over 3,000 people on a single day. He held them in the burning stairwells and gave them peace as the Towers fell. He felt the pain of the victims and their families, the survivors and the responders, before He formed them in their mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and He was with them in their last moments.

God. Never. Left.

In 2 Kings we learn that Sennacherib, King of Assyria, sacked and took captive all of Israel and threatened Judah and Jerusalem. His claim that God would not rescue Judah sounded a lot like the challenges of today to God's authority in our classrooms and government halls. Like Sennacherib, unbelievers today benefit from God's grace and mercy, but misunderstand His plan. Like Sennacherib, they call "Where is your God!"

"Do not listen to Hezekiah, for he is misleading you when he says, 'The Lord will deliver us.' Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim, Hena and Ivvah? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (2 Kings 18:32-35, NIV)

I have atheist friends who applaud the courts and post social media articles about God and the Bible being conspicuously absent from these United States' founding documents. They revel in the separation of Church and State and go as far as saying these United States of America are not and never were a Christian nation. They celebrate running God out of schools and running churches out of town. Like Sennacherib, they boast "Who of all the gods?"

Folks, God never left. God is in our schools whenever a believer walks through the doors. God is in our government whenever a believer climbs the steps to those hallowed halls. And God is in the homes and the stairways of our tragedies because believers welcome Him.

"Where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matt 18:20, NIV)

America is not a Christian nation because the Founders referenced the Bible or the Ten Commandments when drafting the Articles of the Constitution. America is not a Christian nation because our motto is "In God We Trust" or because our pledge says, "one nation, under God." America is not even a Christian nation because Franklin Graham and Charles Stanley preach the word of God freely. No. America is a Christian nation because God lives in the hearts of every believer. America is a Christian nation because, regardless of our hubris, we need Him. America is a Christian nation because God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16).

And when you need Him, God will be in the stairwell of your final moments.

– Mark Klages is an influential contributor, a former US Marine and a lifelong teacher who focuses on applying a Christian worldview to everyday events. Mark blogs at under the title "God Provides where Hate Divides," with a heart to heal social, political, relational, and intellectual wounds through God's divine love and grace. Mark can also be found on LinkedIn: