It is right and appropriate to jump on the bandwagon of everyone remembering 9/11. It has fundamentally shaped how we have interacted with the rest of the world, almost as much as WWII. Yes, I still maintain that WWII has so far had a greater impact that 9/11, but it had a 60 year head start. Given time, 9/11 may well surpass it, though both world wars set the stage for 9/11 in how the Middle East was carved up by the fading colonial powers. We did very little to alleviate those problems and thus have inherited them.
It has shaped my life directly as well. While I don’t know anyone personally that was lost that day, one very close friend lost a friend in the towers. Another acquaintance lost a brother I think in the Pentagon. Friends from grad school were on the observation deck the Saturday 3 days before. Mike remarked to me in an email shortly afterwards, “I remember standing on the roof and thinking how solid it was.”
One of my oldest friends was with her parents visiting her brother at Columbia University. They had planned to have breakfast at Windows on the World (the restaurant at the top of one of the Towers), but she woke up tired and decided to sleep in, so her folks went to a museum instead. 15 minutes after walking in, the first tower was hit. I learned this story about two months later, and it affected me physically, almost like a blow, to think how close she came to being there.
That morning, a Tuesday, I got into my car at ten til eight, heading to teach at LSU-Shreveport, just as the normal hourly news came on (this station did it the last 10 minutes of the hour). They reported a small plane had just hit one of the Towers. I thought it was odd, and the story stayed with me, but was largely unconcerned. I taught my first class. I was in charge of a scientific instrument that needed some work, so I called up the customer service (in Boston, I think), and learned how much more had happened.
That summer, I had a nasty break up with someone in Chicago who travelled a lot for work. At the time, it was believed to be a much larger attack than it was, including planes in and out of Chicago. I risked calling her to see that she was ok. She was—though she was sitting in an airport terminal and had been about to leave on a trip, but was now grounded.
That afternoon, I was teaching a freshman chemistry class when we heard a loud thumping. I went to the window across the hall to see 4-6 combat helicopters flying low over campus. It was like being in one of those movies from the 80’s where the Russians had invaded the US. President Bush had landed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport. (One of the backup planes to serve as Air Force One was kept at the Shreveport Airport, so it made some sense for him to be there.)
All air travel was shut down in the US for days. We all paid far more attention than normal to the news, expecting there to be more. Two days later, our campus had a prayer meeting, attending by most students, staff, many faculty and administrators. The Vice-Chancellor organizing the service, asked me to say the closing prayer. We were a state school, a public university, and we went before the King for comfort. For all too brief a time, our nation was unified like it hadn’t been since Pearl Harbor. Why does it take such a magnitude of tragedy to do that? Why does it last so short a time?
That was my last year at Shreveport. Less than a year later, I got a job with a company that did counterterrorism consulting. On my birthday in 2002, the US military captured Baghdad. That November, I was in Baghdad on assignment with a team from my firm. In December, Saddam was caught. It was my only Christmas away from home, but it was worth it. Regardless of your feelings about the conflict in Iraq, it had a profound impact on my life. A fighter pilot friend lost a buddy when his plane was shot down. I’ve had friends and relatives repeatedly go “on a desert vacation,” with one cousin on his third tour of Afghanistan right now.
All of this I have written (and more) is directly due to the events that happened ten years ago today. It is impossible to really play the ‘what if?’ game. As popular as alternate timelines are in science fiction, God hasn’t yet opened that door for us, and probably won’t. This is the hand we’ve been dealt. This is how we’ve played it. We need to remember. We need to evaluate how to play our hand better from this point forward. We don’t need to point fingers.
We are still one nation.
We are still under God.
We need to move forward in honoring the memories of those we lost that day, those we’ve lost since then in battle, and those who have put themselves on the battle lines still.
We need to love one another, starting at home, because as the wildfires this week have reminded us, we may not even have tonight to heal hurts.
We need to humbly pray for wisdom, charity and grace.
God never guaranteed our safety, but has guaranteed His love. It is in that love that He has commanded that we should be free from fear. To me, that includes being free from terror. As He said, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.” (Luke 12:4) Fear is their only real weapon against us. “Their” being anyone who convinces us to surrender our freedom to accomplish their purposes against us.
Freedom is nearly always only bought with blood, yet it slips away due to lack of awareness. Whether Christ bought our spiritual freedom, or citizen soldiers bought our civic freedom, it took blood, and both kinds can be lost, either effectively or actually, through inattention and compromise.
Let the memory of the blood lost over the last ten years focus our attention to preserve what they bought.
P.S. I wanted to put a photo up of the Towers, because we need to remember, but as I did not have rights to any, chose not to ‘borrow’ any. We need those pictures, we need to tell our stories so that those that come after do not forget, do not come to believe it never happened, that those lives were never lost. If the Holocaust can be doubted within 60 years, this can too. It happened. I lived through the impact it had on us. I have been to ground zero. Regardless of who you think is responsible, those people lost their lives and many thousands of survivors had physical and emotional wounds. It happened.