I remember brushing off the words of my co-worker, convinced he was joking when he made the rounds prior to opening to tell everyone a plane had slammed into one of the World Trade Center towers.
I was a grad student living in Tallahassee, FL, and working part-time at a retail store in the mall. We were all drudging through our morning checklists of things to do to prepare for the mall opening at 10 a.m.
That same co-worker came back around about 15 minutes later, this time with more alarm in his voice, exclaiming the second tower had been hit. Now we were listening. As a somber uncertainty came over us all, we tried to continue our work while simultaneously wondering, What is going on?
Not long after that, we learned the towers had fallen… and the world seemingly stopped.
Much like the day the Challenger space shuttle exploded, we were all sent home and glued our eyes to the television the rest of the day. As we watched helplessly from our living rooms, offices, or school rooms, disbelief and shock turned to immense sadness and fear.
People began to franticly contact loved ones. Are you home? Are you safe? Don’t travel; we don’t know what the next target could be.
As we as a nation commemorate 20 years since September 11, 2001, a few other memories and sentiments come freshly to mind.
Probably the grandest outpouring of compassion I witnessed in my 24-year-old life at that time occurred on and immediately after 9/11. Strangers consoling strangers, by-standers giving aide to the needy, neighbors reaching out to neighbors. One nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE…
It was reported not long after that fateful day that manufacturers couldn’t keep up with the demand for American flag orders. I had never seen so much red, white, and blue displayed as I did post-9/11. Hanging from freshly erected poles in people’s yards, stuck to the back of cars, adorned on proud countrymen’s lapels, purses, and keychains to name a few. Flags were flying everywhere as if to say, You will not break our spirit. It’s safe to say the majority of Americans seemed to set aside their political leanings and rallied around our governmental and military leaders in a united front against our enemies.
A Pew Research study conducted in December 2001 showed that a whopping 56% of those who were already religious found themselves drawn to pray even more after the September 11th attacks, while as much as 35% of those who did not identify as previously religious claimed to also pray more during that time. Why? Because people are prone to turn to religion in times of crisis as it perhaps provides a source of comfort even to those who wouldn’t otherwise consider themselves religious. In fact, as cited in a Barna study just over two months later, there was a surge of around 25% in attendance at places of worship. However, it didn’t take long for those numbers to drop back down to “normal” levels.
Love & Forgiveness
If ever there were a time to let bygones be bygones, during times of crisis would be that time. I heard of numerous stories of loved ones reconciling after the events unfolded on that horrific day. In fact, after not speaking to a family member for quite some time, I found myself reaching out via phone in an attempt to mend fences and ensure safety. Great love has the supernatural ability to spring forth in the midst of heartache and trying times.
“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Matthew 6:14-15
It was time. Time to show compassion. Time for patriotism. Time to cling to faith. And most certainly, time to love and forgive.
So what has happened in the last 20 years that we as a nation have gotten so far from where we were? We are no longer a nation united. We are divided in the worst possible ways.
I won’t pretend that we can solve all of America’s problems in a simple blog. But, perhaps we can look to the words of Paul in his letter to the Ephesian church for some admonishment:
“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6
It shouldn’t take a natural disaster or an attack on our nation to unite us. Let us strive to live daily in the unity of the Spirit of God. May we set the bar and spark a flame across this country to heed the words of John who says:
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” 1 John 4:20-21 (emphasis added)