September 11, 2021


Today, the 20th anniversary of 9/11/2001, a date we cannot forget.  What image or photograph could ever depict that memory? I decided on this—a candle inside my metal lantern with the outline of trees and the shadowy reflections on the wall behind. 

On that beautiful Tuesday morning in 2001, I had just been working at my Nashville Downtown Partnership job about six weeks and was living in a room at John and kay’s home temporarily.  When the news of the plane hitting the first World Trade Center tower in New York reached our office, my two young staff members asked to go to another area where people were watching on television.  I just sat at my computer in shock, praying. As the tragic story continued to unfold, I got periodic phone call updates from John, Patrick and Heather. 

Thousands of people went to work that morning just as I had or got on a plane to go somewhere and never came home again. As seldom before, we all recognized our vulnerability and that any morning could be our last one on earth.  The stories of the people who were killed that day made us appreciate life itself and our loved ones, and we saw amazing courage and compassion among so many affected—people risking their lives to help others to safety, firefighters and police rushing into danger to save others, airplane passengers storming the hijackers to prevent destruction of another planned target, followed by the horrible days of digging through the rubble for survivors or to identify those killed. Incredible suffering has endured for many.

Many families of those who were killed that day have gone on to accomplish remarkable ways of remembering them that continue to help others. Memorials at the sites were designed to help heal those who remember the lost.

On this 20th anniversary, I feel there is much more to lament.  I listened again to words from people who warned us against vengeance that week in 2001.  Miroslav Volf (Christian theologian and author) was speaking on reconciliation at a prayer breakfast at the United Nations headquarters that morning as the first plane hit one of the World Trade Center. They evacuated the building immediately after he spoke, thinking it too might be a planned target of the terrorists. On a podcast today, he recalled his message on reconciliation at that prayer breakfast and grieved over the path of vengeance our country followed, with trillions of dollars spent and many thousands of lives lost in long unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

I listened to a sermon called “The Day Jerusalem Fell” preached by Rev. Jeremiah Wright in Chicago the Sunday after 9/11.  His text was the last portion of Psalm 137—verses so hard they are seldom mentioned.  He grieved the loss of life on 9/11 and encouraged everyone to speak their love to each other. And he warned that America’s “chickens were coming home to roost” in this attack. 

I also listened to a sermon by Rev. Tim Keller at the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City from that Sunday.  He cautioned against several false narratives that were already emerging.  One was the narrative of “we are the good guys” and “they are the evil guys.”  No one could dispute that the terrorists’ actions on 9/11 were evil, yet we need not demonize a specific religion or nationality or think our nation totally good.

Lamenting and listening and remembering. Twenty years later.

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