Reflections on the Anniversary of 9/11

Thursday, September 26, 2013

In March of 1999, while directing an International Affairs Seminar trip with a group of high school juniors and seniors from Kansas, I found myself with them on the observation deck of the World Trade Center. We timed our trip to the deck, 110 floors above the streets of New York City, to arrive 30 minutes before the sun went down. It was a clear day. From that height we could see for miles and miles. Then the sun went down and the lights came on and the view was just as amazing at night. That is a day that I and those teens will never forget.

Three years later, in March of 2002, I was in New York for a similar trip -- this time with a group of teenagers from Arkansas. We found our way to the former site of the World Trade Center, now known as Ground Zero. We stood on another observation deck, the one reserved for victims' families ( and those of us with connections) to look seven floors down into the crater in the earth and watch the recovery workers search for body parts. While we were watching, they removed the lower half of a body. Quietly and with great respect we watched them move the body up a ladder to street level. That is another day that I and those teens will never forget.

Just a couple of weeks ago we again recognized the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It is a day that we will never forget. That day has become another to add to the list of days in history of which people say, "I remember where I was when I heard about..."

Days of infamy like the attack on Pearl Harbor; days of grief like the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; days of pride like the first moon landing and the fall of the Berlin Wall; days of shock like the tragedies of the Challenger space shuttle and the Oklahoma City bombing; and many more days with dates that ring in our ears as a reminder of key moments in our nation's history.

Few events in our nation's history have affected our daily lives as much as the attacks 12 years ago. Many regulations procedures, and laws have been enacted as a direct result of the attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. We now empty our pockets before entering many governmental buildings. We take off our shoes before boarding planes and are subject to strict searches of our belongings and our persons. We have given up a certain amount of privacy due to the Patriot Act and other new laws, and yet we still live in greater fear. We suspiciously watch foreigners and we profile people as possible threats.

As a nation, we seem to be moving slowly through the stages of grief. Moving from denial to acceptance, it appears that we moved quickly from denial to pain to anger -- and then have been stuck on that anger ever since. As Americans, we were and still are angry the attacks took place and so many lives were lost. Our anger grew into a war on terrorism and more specifically on those people we determined to be most responsible for the attacks.

In all this anger, we also seem to have lost sight of God. Job Understood this type of anger as well when all he had was taken from him. In Job 9:11, Job says of God, "When he passes me, I cannot see him; when he goes by, I cannot perceive him."

He too, lost sight of God in his anger. What can we, as a nation, do to move past this anger to a deeper sense of healing? John 9:11 reports the words of a man born blind but recently healed, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."

Is there significance in the fact that from Job, a book of suffering, we are told about loosing sight of God and John and a Gospel of good news, which shares with us a healing story of sight brought to a blind man when he allowed Jesus to touch him -- both from 9:11? I only know that when our anger causes us to loose sight of God, we too should allow Jesus to touch us and to heal us.