It was a bright fall Boston morning fifteen years ago when I walked out of my rented room to saunter down the sidewalk towards my university. I was young, green, naïve – in graduate school. I was studying development – that post-soviet ‘end of history’ idea that assumed America had no more enemies, freedom had been achieved and everything else was just a matter for the ‘experts’. To help those held back by the unfree world. My own compassion came from my experience as a Missionary Kid, and the desire to share Christ’s love with the needy – the ‘social gospel’ it is often called, which is a fine and true motivation. My thoughts were not particularly political – although that would quickly change.
At any rate, as I arrived outside of the union a friend – I think he was from Ethiopia or Eritrea – said, “You’d better take a look at the news. Seems there has been a plane crash in New York.” I said “Thank you”, appreciative of his concern for his adoptive country and went inside. Plane crashes are relatively common, and I didn’t think much of it until I stepped in front of the television. The next several hours were spent watching in increasing horror what was unfolding.
And, quickly, I started to learn.
I learned what hate is. Pure, unadulterated and irrational. A group of angry, rich young men who were willing to give up everything to murder innocents. Crowds on the Arab Street celebrating the destruction, firing their weapons in the air and lifting their middle fingers for the cameras. I learned what enemies were. Hugo Chavez observing a minute of silence for the terrorists; the Taliban defying the world to shelter Bin Laden.
I also learned what stupidity is. A ‘professor’ calling us to class, continuing with his lesson on this-or-that theory with the words ‘well, there’s nothing that we can do about it anyway,’ as if the world had not just changed forever. A girl – a fellow student – bursting into tears and me, in my foolishness trying to comfort her as I was quickly rebuffed, “Oh, I’m not crying over the attack, I’m crying over the inevitable American response,” as if we were not freshly mourning 3000 dead. As if we were not justified to fight back. Blame America and damn the victims – ideas that defy reason, yet that do abide.
Yet after and beside all this I also learned about greatness. Firefighters and policemen running into still-smoldering buildings looking for survivors. Pilots rushing to fighter jets – not knowing what was out there but firm in their resolve to keep our country safe. The message “We Are All Americans”, a great surging echo resonating across the length and breadth of the world. A president – in his finest hour – giving the speech of his life. Noble and dignified and angry – without hate – a scene that still brings tears to my eyes. The remarkable restraint of my fellow Americans, not taking out their anguish on our fellow Americans who look, sound or believe differently. Through the grief, maybe because of it, the western world’s greatest moment.
Everything has changed since that awful day fifteen years ago. For the world, for America, for me. We’ve made some stupid decisions; and we’ve done some remarkable things. We’ve grieved and mourned and celebrated – we’ve revved up as we continue to come to grips with the fallout from that, the most significant of all days. A frazzled world looks exhaustedly into the future as we grapple with the eternal question, “When will this end? When will they stop? When will they let us be?” a question without a good answer. I knew the world before 9/11. My son, however, did not. My role in the aftermath has been decided and defined, and continues to play out – his is as-of-yet hidden in an opaque tomorrow.
So on this solemn day of remembrance, I thank my God for America, who I love and serve. I pray for my son’s generation, that they will know what lasting peace is. And I pray for wisdom for our leaders as they continue to lead us in this new struggle to preserve our liberty; as well as confusion for our enemies – who’s hate for the light still endures.
God Bless America.