I imagine most of us remember what we were doing that morning ten years ago when we heard the news. At first, it seemed like a bad airline accident. Then as I watched the news report, the second plane flies into the second tower. It was now obvious that this was no accident. Then reports of a third plane crashing into the Pentagon and a fourth crashing into a Pennsylvania field. By now, the country was in chaos.
This was a watershed moment in our nation’s history; a moment which forever alters life and our perception of what it means to live in America; a moment which signals a new chapter in American society; a point of no return. As a child, I experienced another watershed moment in American history: the assassination of President Kennedy. Although I was only ten years old at the time, I could sense the despair in my parents, neighbors and even in Walter Cronkite as the events of that day unfolded. Moments like these leave a lasting impression; they are so traumatic that, when we look back on them, we can remember the minutiae of that day: what we were doing, who we were with, what we were wearing, what the weather was like. But the most important detail –Why?– remains hidden. Perhaps we wish them to remain hidden because we don’t wish to acknowledge that such hate and evil exists.
The events of that day brought home the realization that there are people in the world who would do anything to destroy us and there are many who applaud and support those who wish to harm us. The events of that day also gave us a wake-up call to a ‘brave new world’: The spectre of terrorism became a part of our daily lives. We had experienced acts of terrorism before (e.g. the 1992 WTC bombing, the Murrah Federal Bldg. bombing, et. al) but, this event was on an unprecedented scale. It also became clear that we were dealing with groups that do not value their own lives, much less the lives of others. Unlike the former Soviet Union, there can be no negotiations or detente with people who look forward to dying, as long as they take you with them.
In the winter of 2009, I went to New York and visited Ground Zero. It was a deeply emotional and sorrowful experience. The gaping chasm where once stood the tallest buildings in a city of tall buildings reminded me of a body that had suffered a traumatic amputation. The atmosphere was heavy and laden with the spirits of the souls who perished that day. I mourned for those who died. I mourned for the families of the victims. I mourned for the courageous and heroic firemen, police officers and ‘first responders’ who tried to save those trapped inside, knowing that they too would probably never see another day. Finally, I mourned for myself because that day a part of my humanity and Christianity perished as well. Christ tells me to forgive as He forgives and that real justice will come from Him yet, I could not and cannot forgive… not yet, and I was not interested in justice; what I wanted was retribution, massive retaliation and brutal vengeance. Had I been President Bush that day, I would’ve flattened Afghanistan with nuclear missiles and launched them against any nation that even hinted at objecting.
Now, ten years later, have I been able to forgive? No (although I know that I won’t have spiritual peace until I do). Do I still desire retribution? No. What I desire is an end to wars that only yield dead American soldiers in the name of building nations for people who do not appreciate our efforts and who will probably descend into anarchy and chaos a few weeks after we’ve left. Has the pain I felt on 9/11 diminished ten years later? It has lessened somewhat but I still fight back tears whenever I see a photo like the one above.
Where do we go from here? America was dealt a cruel blow but we were not brought to our knees. We’ve survived and we are healing. We cannot give in to despair and to the current belief that we have lost our exceptionalism. Unlike any other nation on earth, if America doesn’t lead, then who will? In order to do this, we must fortify the foundation of our society –the family. Mothers and fathers must lead by example and instill in the minds of the next generation of Americans the values of morality, ethics, hard work and self-sacrifice. Our children must see that we are proud of our cultural heritage and even prouder of being a part of this great American experiment. Our next generation can be the greatest generation, if we work to make so.
Let the lesson of 9/11 not be fear, hate, and despair but resolve, brotherhood, and hope.
God Bless America.