So, where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001? I’ll bet you know. It’s one of those days, like when John F. Kennedy was shot or when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on its way into space, that burns itself into your memory because it’s just too monstrous to forget.
I was in the office at the Biblical Recorder when someone called to say a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I rolled a TV on a cart from the closet, turned on one of the morning news shows, and told the staff they should put aside their work and watch.
We sat around the boardroom table and wept and watched as news analysts speculated about what had gone wrong with the plane, so our eyes were already glued to the set when a second plane came streaking across New York’s iconic skyline with fatal intent.
We kept watching as smoke billowed into the sky and saw glimpses of people climbing out of windows, preferring to fly and die than to burn on the 89th floor. We heard about another plane hitting the Pentagon, and yet another crashing in Pennsylvania. We watched, horrified, as one tower and then the other collapsed as if perfectly imploded by demolition crews, pancaking one floor on another as they sank into a maelstrom of dust that blew through the concrete canyons like something from an apocalyptic nightmare.
We joined the nation in puzzling along with the analysts and experts as the pieces started falling into place and it became clear that the day of horrors was the work of a terror organization whose murderous plot had succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations.
We couldn’t guess at the time that the several thousand who died on 9/11 became, amazingly, just a foretaste of the scores of thousands who would die in wars whose genesis was directly related to the national paranoia growing out of that day.
To the extent that Osama bin Ladin and his followers wanted to make Americans afraid and even more self-focused than usual, they succeeded wildly. To the extent they wanted to sow seeds of strife and suspicion that would unsettle the entire globe, they achieved their goal.
I don’t know if Americans are more secure these days, but we are certainly more fearful, more suspicious, more polarized, more willing to shoot first and ask questions later.
Perhaps it’s appropriate that the 10th anniversary of 9/11 takes place on a Sunday. Those who follow the lectionary in worship cannot help noticing that the two New Testament texts for this week (chosen long before 9/11/2001) deal with the importance of forgiveness (Matt. 18:25-31) and learning to live in peace without being judgmental toward each other (Rom. 14:1-11).
Through countless commemorative television programs and many special features in magazines and newspapers, we’ve been reminded of the appalling atrocities and the awful aftermath of 9/11. What we have rarely heard is a call for us to consider the high road, the challenging road, the loving road of forgiveness in our response to that day.
Perhaps its time we did. The more important question is not where we were on Sept. 11, 2001, but where we are today.