Even now it seems strange that America’s worst day in my lifetime turned out to be one of the most spiritual — a day that is remembered with a deep sense of reverence by thousands in my profession from all across the country, most of whom are not members of the LDS Church. Added to the indelible imprint left of the horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, was a most remarkable concert performed by the Tabernacle Choir and presided over by President Gordon B. Hinckley and his counselors in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Even today, people from distant cities light up when they find out I’m from Utah, almost always starting with, “Were you ” and I know that they’re going to ask about the concert. Here’s how it happened.
For the past 33 years, I have worked in financial services and life insurance — mostly as a trainer and home office support person, but also as an agent. I love my career and the financial security our efforts provide for families and businesses. One of the ways we work to maintain the integrity of our craft is to belong to the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisers. This year, I will serve as the president of the Salt Lake affiliate.
Each year, NAIFA holds an annual convention that attracts thousands of people. The one time the convention was held in Salt Lake City happened to be in the early days of September 2001. I got up early that morning to attend a breakfast meeting with another professional organization that has a chapter in Salt Lake City, the Society of Financial Services Professionals. We were enjoying a great continuing education presentation when, as the meeting closed, the local chapter president stood up and said, “We don’t have many details, but word has been received that an airplane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. No one knows if it was an accident or what, but apparently many people have been killed.”
Obviously, that threw a pall over the meeting and everyone rushed out to the hallways of the Salt Palace to watch the unfolding events on the television monitors. Most of the workshop sessions were canceled, so I walked one block to my office in downtown Salt Lake City where I joined others in watching the television to find out what had happened. That’s when we saw the second passenger jet strike the second tower, and everyone knew in an instant that this was a terrorist attack. What a disturbing, disheartening day.
No one knew what to do. Ordinary work was out of the question since no one wanted to meet with us. Travel plans were disrupted as the skies were cleared of all civilian aircraft. It was eerie to look out the window and see no activity in or out of Salt Lake City International Airport. Around noon, I made my way back to the Salt Palace to find out what was happening at the convention.
Aside from all the concerns of our out of town visitors who were now marooned in Utah, the big question for those of us attending the convention was whether or not the special concert that had been scheduled that evening for our group with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was still going to take place. Everyone was looking forward to it prior to the attack, and somehow it now felt more important than ever. Eventually we were told that the concert would be held, although the program was to be modified in such a way that it was to be a special devotional that would be broadcast all around the world. Those of us who know and love the choir realized that this was an event that would be unlike any other.
Arriving at the Tabernacle, there was a quiet bustle as people took their seats. Not the usual laughter or joking that would take place at an event, but rather a subdued sorrow. Eventually, President Hinckley rose and introduced himself. He apologized for taking control of what was to have been a private concert, but of course no one felt slighted. In fact everyone realized the seriousness of the time as the leader of a worldwide church used a forum that we were attending to speak comfort to the people of the nation.
The songs scheduled for the concert were replaced by patriotic songs and hymns, and the choir was never in finer form. Their voices soared and our spirits responded. Then they sang words of solace, and we mourned for those who had died. President Hinckley, a masterful speaker, spoke inspiring words of solace and resolve. At the end, we were all spiritually uplifted in a way I had never experienced — the combination of a great shock combined with a marvelous program that appealed to people of all faiths and creeds.
It’s funny how you remember small details. In this instance, the thing that stood out is that the opening prayer was offered by President James E. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency, and the closing prayer by President Thomas S. Monson, first counselor. I realized I’d never been in a meeting where the First Presidency offered the prayers. For some reason, that added greatly to my appreciation of the event.
At the end of the concert, we all made our way out into the cool night air. We had no idea what lay ahead for America, but somehow we felt it would be all right. People hugged and then departed silently to their homes (the few of us from Utah) or to their hotels.
The conference ended the following day, and some people rented cars to make their way home. Others stayed in Salt Lake City until the airports reopened. But even today we all remember that marvelous shared experience of being sung to by the world’s greatest choir in an hour of deepest need.
Jerry Borrowman is a chartered financial consultant with a master's degree in financial services. He is an author of World War I and World War II fiction and a co-authored biography. His website is www.jerryborrowman.com.