Every year on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, people ask “Have we forgotten”?
They (and I’m sure I’ve done this too) then answer, that, we have or have not.
This year, I’d like to ask a different question.
When we said, that “they attacked our way of life”, “they tried to divide us” and “we will stand united”…well, how do we stand on those?
How have those statements held up?
“They attacked our way of life”. A character in the comedy film “The Interview” says “they hate us because they ain’t us”. When the terrorists attacked, we immediately made some changes that were practical and necessary, such as airports and travel. But have we changed even more over the years, in ways we would not have imagined or intended? Aren’t we now, internally, attacking, tearing and gouging at our national fabric?
Politicians who seek to lead us tell us we must “fundamentally change” America. But isn’t that what we vowed al-Qaeda would never do? We are seeing attacks on our democracy, our elections, our laws, our police, our churches and our most basic rights and freedoms.
These attacks are not from without. They are from within.
We told those who masterminded this diabolical, twisted attack that the spirit of America would never be defeated. Yet, isn’t there a call to surrender coming from within our country, from people who tear down its founding, decry its Constitution and declare the soul of the nation permanently stained by its imperfect past?
“They tried to divide us”. It didn’t work in 2001, did it? But look how divided we are today? All we can see are polarized poll numbers, protests against everything from chicken sandwiches to comedians.
You know, if you only ever viewed the destruction of “Ground Zero” in lower Manhattan on TV, you missed something remarkable. I had a chance to visit in the spring after the attack. This was a time when they were still removing and excavating debris. You had to wash soot from your face after leaving the area. When you got close, you saw—amazingly—that the foundations of the buildings were still there. Under all the chaos, the foundations were…still there.
It reminds us of the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation”:
“Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed,
for I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”
Those foundations and that hymn give me hope that under our divisions and distrust, we still have our foundations below our feet and our God over our head. We need only reclaim them.
“We will stand united”. A unity moment like our nation had in the hours and days after the 9/11 attacks isn’t going to last for years or decades. We know that. But we should recall it when people denigrate our police officers and first responders, over the actions of a few. We were cheering them on as they responded 18 years ago, and wrapping them in love, prayer and appreciation back then. We never know when we will need them again. We only know we will.
And one more thought about the passage of eighteen years.
It’s interesting, eighteen is the age our society arbitrarily declares adulthood. Adult life begins, adult priveleges and responsibilities begin.
And when you are 18, you are invincible and eternal, so you think. The wise man or woman gradually learns that this is not so.
But today reminds us that we never know when our “eternal” will become our call into eternity. Many people on that day started their morning with coffee and commuting, at a computer terminal or in an airplane seat. None of them, I imagine, thought it would be the last day of their lives.
If the September 11 remembrance is anything, it is a reminder to face our spiritual needs, admit our sinfulness and commit to the will and salvation of God.