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Nineteen

September 11, 2020
Atentados del 11S: ¿Cuántas personas murieron en los ataques del 11 de septiembre?

If you were born before 1995, you can tell me where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001.

I was driving into work at the church I was serving at the time, Highland Park Christian Church, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As usual, I had the radio on. An unbelievable news alert came on, interrupting the normal programming. An American Airlines plane had flown into one of the Twin Towers in New York City. The structure was on fire. Thousands of lives were at risk.

I thought, “That’s just crazy. It’s like a Tom Clancy novel. Is this a War of the Worlds thing? Somebody’s got to be messing with us.” By the time I got in the building and to my office, TVs were going, and the nightmare had begun.

The reports coming in were choppy and chaotic. First one plane, then the next, strategically crashing into the Twin Towers. Then another one crashes into the Pentagon. Then one crashes in Pennsylvania, in a field, which we learned was thanks to the heroism of passengers on board. The Towers began to collapse. Soot, smoke and toxins filled the air. In a few hours, all that was left of the Towers was twisted girders and debris at what would come to be known as Ground Zero.

In all, 2,977 people lost their lives.

I remember thinking and hearing, “Life will never be the same.” Planes were grounded, business came to a halt, Capitol Hill, the White House and the Pentagon went into hyper drive, and so did the news networks. We held our breath. Churches from sea to shining sea filled with grieving and praying souls looking for some kind of grace to make some sense of what happened and make their way through this.

In some ways, life hasn’t been the same. You get a dose of this every time you fly. No more rushing from the curb to you gate for your plane. No more accompanying loved ones and friends to their gate. Long lines through the TSA screening, instead.

Eighteen years after 9/11, Debbie and I were given tickets to an Oklahoma City Thunder NBA game, and were surprised to have to empty purses and pockets to go through a metal detector to enter the arena. This precaution and others similar to it are in place in places we would never have dreamed of 19 years ago.

So, no, life isn’t the same as it was on September 10, 2001.

And yet. After about six weeks, there were no standing-room-only church services any more (or at least not very many – not as many has there had been that first week after 9/11/01). Once the world felt safe enough to get back on airplanes and do business again, life went back to something very much like “normal” with some considerable inconveniences.

That’s kind of how we are. We have short memories. The ardor and passion and sense of our need for God in those first days and weeks after the unthinkable event of 9/11, and the nation turned our hearts and thoughts to Him began to slide back into a normal rhythm of hustle and buy and sell and get on with life.

Is this because we’re evil? Do we have so short a memory because we’re just bad? Well, there’s no doubt that there is real evil at work in the world, and sometimes in us. There are bad people out there. But I’m thinking this short memory thing is less about us being evil than it is about us being human.

Once our limbic system is no longer over-stimulated and finally comes back to stasis, we’ll come back down to some kind of normal. That’s how God designed our brains to work. The nearly instant hyper-vigilance reaction of our limbic system when we’re under threat is a gift to us from God for our survival. The return to stasis is a gift to us, too. Without it, we’d never be able to sustain survival. Our short collective memory is something of an undesirable and unavoidable outcome of this process. Just my opinion.

On this 19th anniversary of one of the saddest days in American history, it would be a good idea for us to do some remembering. Like remembering the 343 firefighters (including a chaplain and two paramedics) of the New York City Fire Department who gave their lives trying to save the lives of others. Like the 37 police officers of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police Department and the 23 police officers of the New York City Police Department. And the 8 men and women from Private Emergency Responders who died. The 265 men and women who lost their lives on the four airliners. The 125 who died in the Pentagon. And then the 2606 who perished in the Twin Towers.

With the exception of Police, Firefighters and Military Personnel, none of those who died had signed up to put their life at risk. They were innocent victims of a meticulously planned and orchestrated terrorist attack.

I don’t know how to calculate the number of families who were represented by these 2,977 souls. All I know is that it’s thousands. I also don’t know how to calculate how many of them have come to peace about their losses. I’m pretty sure it’s not the majority.

Honoring the memory of those who perished won’t bring them back. It won’t lessen the grief and sorrow of the families left behind. It won’t fix anything. But it seems ungrateful and unmindful to nod at the day on the calendar as we charge off to the next thing as unhindered as possible.

For me, there are three essential realities that this day brings to front and center. First of all, life is short and none of us has a guarantee of our next breath, let alone tomorrow. This is a reality worth pondering.

Secondly, the loss and sorrow of people I do not know and possibly will never meet is worth a pause from me to pray for them and think about them and honor the memory of their loved ones. Life has returned to a form of normal for me, but I doubt it will ever be normal for them.

And last of all, control is an illusion. We forget this to our harm.

Whatever you’ve done on this day, on this 9/11/2020, it would be wise to intentionally pause and reflect on the weight and significance of 19 years ago.

From → Marriage

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