Columnist: A reflection on Sept. 11, 2001
Recently, we observed the 15th anniversary of 9-11. Though much was said and written about the occasion, and rightly so, I want to add a further word of my own. Never mind it is a short time after the observance, who can ever forget?
For sure, we will never forget the pictures and sounds of Sept. 11, 2001 – those hijacked planes and crumbling towers; the loss of life and immense human suffering; those heroic public servants and citizens; the memorial services; a nation under attack; a nation at prayer and a nation responding. Oh yes, we vividly remember. We remember.
So, how can our memory of the past enable us to have a better present and future for all humankind? As people of faith, what is our proper response to “15 years after Tuesday?”
First, we can identify with the affliction of our brothers and sisters! Remembrance always begins with a deep personal identification. We make the pain of those who suffer our own pain.
The following are a few lines from a Litany that will assist with our personal identification with the experience of 9-11.
The One: When we remember the firefighters who rushed upstairs as everyone else was racing down, we can say together,
The Many: We remember the risks you took.
The One: When we remember the thousands of workers, men and women, young and old, married and single, American and international, who could not escape the buildings, we can say together,
The Many: We grieve over the loss of life.
The One: When we remember the people who poured into the blood banks to make donations, we can say together,
The Many: We thank you for your compassion.
I repeat, remembrance always begins with a deep personal identification. We make the pain of our brothers and sisters our pain.
Second, we can renew our confidence in God! Psalm 46 is a psalm of confidence. Undoubtedly, it was written during a time of national crisis. The entire psalm is in the plural, “God is our refuge and strength” (psalm 46:1). “Though the earth changes and the mountains shake” (verses 2,3), the psalmist affirms, “God is our refuge and strength.”
Coventry Patmore, the English poet and critic, told how once as a boy of 11, he was reading a book when all of a sudden (he says), “It struck me what an exceedingly fine thing it would be if there really was a God.”
That is the experience, some of us are needing still-something more than a vague acceptance of doctrines and beliefs-to be struck by the sudden shattering realization that these beliefs of ours are profoundly and everlastingly true.
The point is that the people of God are never alone in their affliction. Not in ancient Israel. Not in the United States 15 years ago or now. Not anywhere in the world. When God’s people cry to the Lord, God hears and God responds.
Third, we can treat our heritage – America – as a gift! One of the significant lessons we learned, or hopefully learned, from the tragedy of 9-11 is that we are to treat our heritage as a gift. And, if so, three attitudes will characterize us as Americans-gratitude, humility and generosity.
Gratitude means we recognize ourselves as charity cases of what God and others have done for us. Humility means we drop our arrogant pride that has so often identified us as “ugly Americans” in the eyes of the world. And generosity means we recognize that we have been blessed as a nation to be a blessing to others in both good times and bad times.
Finally, we can work for a world of justice and peace! As people of faith, it seems to me that our task today is not simply to get rid of the terrorists, but to eliminate the causes of terrorism. Tony Compolo, preacher and professor, noted, “Five thousand people die in one day because of the insanity of terrorists. It’s shocking. I’m not going to get over it ever; I know that. But hear me: while we slept last night 30,000 children under the age of 12 died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition.”
So what is our proper response, as people of God, to 9-11? We can identify with the affliction of our brothers and sisters, renew our confidence in God, treat our heritage as a gift and work for a world of justice and peace.
Oh yes, we vividly remember. We remember!