Reflections on 9/11 Revisited
“A greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
As we come to the tenth anniversary of this tragic event I want to give my reflections and feelings 12 years after 9/11. What was the journey of our lives resulting from that day when the world was affected by both the heroic and selfish acts of others. 9/11 did not just give us something else to remember on Memorial Day but it changed our lives forever in understanding the price of freedom in the world.
As the sun came up each of us prepared for the productivity of the day. My office was located just one and one half blocks from the World Trade Center. Everyday I either walked through it or would go under it as I rode the subway to the Rector Street Station. September 11, 2001 began as a take for granted day. My partner decided to work out of the office because he had meetings in Greenwich Connecticut. I was bringing some equipment into the office by car so I waited till later to miss the rush hour traffic and our administrative assistant had asked to stop in Brooklyn before coming into the office because of the late start.
What a day! Everything was going well. The sun was shining and I was just getting into my car when my cell phone rang. “Dad where are you?” came the voice from the other end. My son who was sitting in his office on the 21st floor of a building located on 35th street had just seen the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. “I’m just leaving for the office, I replied. “Go turn on the TV” was his response. I turned on the TV and before me was the unfolding of this unbelievable but real experience that has changed the world forever. The world-view has changed a number of times by shocking events since the beginning of time but this one was on our “watch.”
It took several days before we could go to the area and see whether we had an office left. When we arrived at the site with dust masks and work clothes we had to be escorted to our office by a police officer. We waited in a long line to get passes and then trudged through the debris with the dust and the heat from the burning fires radiating throughout the area. The workmen on the pile burned through a pair of boots every two hours. We looked into stores with the windows blown out and saw the merchandise still sitting on the shelves caked with inches of dust from the buildings. Shelves of folded sweaters sat frozen in time and in perfect form as though someone had set them in place and sprayed them with a mix of powered concrete.
As we walked through the rubble the electric company was already laying cables directly on the streets and trying to restore some grid for electrical restoration. We arrived at our building behind Trinity Church and after passing through security started trudging up the six flights of stairs to our office. My partner had to turn back at the staging point. He had so much trouble catching his breath he had to leave the area. When we reached our offices we found that the buildings around us had protected our space and other than a coating of dust everything seemed to be intact. We got our critical materials so we could set up shop outside the office and left that day not knowing that it would be four months before we could move back in to do business.
That moment of impact birthed a lot of new perceptions about how we live and what we feel about trust and concern for others. For the next days and months people gave themselves fully to the task of recovery without thinking about anything but restoring order and reconfiguring their compass for the future. Fire fighters, police, construction workers, care givers, and multitudes of compassion and other workers from every walk of life came and gave of their lives for the lives of others. Some gave up their lives for people they didn’t even know.
Ten years have passed and today the rising tide of concern is for the health of the people who served. Seventy percent of the people who worked at ground zero in the months following the tragedy have developed breathing difficulties and other related health problems because of pollution in the air. My first thought is what if we knew this when it happened? Would we have left that gaping hole filled with smoldering rubble and dirty air languish in the tragedy of the moment or would we have done the same? Who is willing to lay down their lives to secure the present and rebuild for the future?
There are those who feel that the cost for freedom has been paid and belongs to us because the price for our freedom is in the bank as a legacy of the past. If this is true who invests the human capital so that freedom will stand in the future? Someone must be the “watchman” on the wall. Human nature tends to denigrate the raising of any flag of commitment that requires a cost of effort that will threaten our personal comfort zone. The great Biblical adage of “ A greater love has no person than when they lay down their life for their friends: rises to a new level when people lay down their lives for people they don’t even know. That is where the hitch is. We can’t have it both ways. All who truly fight the battle for freedom fight to establish the good rather than to bring vengeance to the bad.
All who work for good must remember that their effort is for the fulfillment of the greater goal and not for the convenience of it. Our problem is that we are “finite creatures” with tendencies to serve ourselves in the end. While the majority of the population of the world is working to survive, it is in the selfish warp of the nature of man to seek dominance by disrupting those who are “surviving well” and destabilize their “comfort zones” so everyone can be miserable together. The result of wealth redistribution will not be greater comfort for all but shared misery for all because stewardship not wealth is where the problem lies for the world solution to peace and fulfillment. Whether it be wealth distribution or just pushing for a place at the table, human nature tends to seek self interest at any cost.
The problem with is that many times a view of both material and philosophical “things” are the stimuli for envy and greed. A communion among neighbors built on the command of “love your neighbor as yourself” is the highest form of relationship. We who live free are called on to love our neighbors even when they don’t believe the same way as we do not to kill them even though we might think they are infidels and not like us. Life ultimately is not about the “stuff” we have it’s about the relationships we have that last beyond all tragedy. The values that are eternal and lasting come from our Creator who gives us grace, mercy, and love to extend on behalf of our neighbor.
Today, people are suing the government for the results of a journey they began in the name of duty, love, and concern. All who observed the heroics of 9/11 were set back on their heels with gratitude and empathy. Today as we watch the present rise of resentment unfold millions will be spent and millions will be gained by those who win cases against a government that in the middle of crisis said that there seemed to be no reason for long term harm in the air. That government is one of “We the People” but for some reason when there is a problem we want that “people” to be someone else. I was there on 9/11 and I did not need the government to tell me that the air was polluted.
When we go golfing we throw a little grass in the air to check which way the wind is blowing so we can determine which way to hit the ball. Why would we as individuals think that with the air filled with two hundred stories of solid waste from two of the tallest buildings in the world which in a matter of hours had been turned to dust and burning ash for weeks, would not be a problem even on the best of days?
Decisions were made and they were made by the passion of people not the government. They were made by committed people who now have been told by the media, their lawyers, and the politicians that they have a case because they are now suffering as a result of their response to the cause because the government did not inform them that danger might be lurking in every breath they take.
But the cause goes on. The enemy spent about five hundred thousand dollars to pull off that job and it cost our economy over seven hundred billion dollars to bring it up to the level of solution where it is today. In New York alone the costs continue to escalate each year. The enemy thinks that is good return for their investment and hopes to do it again.
All who played a part in repairing the breach showed the resolve of our commitment to freedom but if our heroic commitment turns to anger, pain, and revenge then the enemy of freedom has won twice and we have lost something forever in our hearts and minds. That loss is in the communion we claim to have with each other as citizens of a free society. Every time we place our hands over our hearts and salute the flag we do it as an act of communion with community and nation.
There is a war winding down in Afghanistan, There is a war we have finished in Iraq. There is a civil war in Syria. We are wondering how we can stop nations from killing their own people. A grand contest is going on in the world and that is a war of opinion trying to decide who is devoted to God and who is the infidel. There is another war in our hearts fighting the “they owe me” syndrome. It is the war in our hearts that will ultimately determine whether we win because the war in our hearts is a war of self-peril. It’s a battle between light and darkness, right or wrong. If we allow ourselves to become a house divided and ask back what we have willing given we will allow the world to brand the event of 9/11 as one where the hearts of those who gave were conditional on whether the government did the right thing that day or was it really up to us to decide our own destiny in giving our lives.
As we remember 9/11 we wonder what will be etched in the hallowed monuments of Ground Zero. Has the accomplishment of the passing years shown the commitment of the American resolve to give their all no matter what the cost or should we put an asterisk beside each name who sues to get recompense for their suffering because it wasn’t worth their contribution. Every firefighter who would not leave a stone unturned until every comrade was returned. Every police officer who stood watch until all was secured and everyone one of their lost ones was accounted for. Will we move ahead with the same resolve as the Japanese did after they were bombed at the end of the World War II or allow this act of malice go beyond the eating of our flesh by destroying our spirit and souls. Only God knows the answer and only in our hearts do we know the motive.
Going back to work has never been quite the same. There in Lower Manhattan the spiritual, financial, and cultural history of America was forged in the context of a pluralistic community. It was there that it all began. It was not birthed in the comfort zone of wealth but in dire adversity of the deprived. The pain and suffering of those who came to build this community weathered the storm of adversity until today people are privileged to live and work in the greatest city in the world.
That is the story of beginnings but let’s hope that our painful memories will not keep us from setting the pace of unconditional commitment to the future. Three thousand deaths on 9/11 was a great price to pay. Who knows how many others will be recorded in the annals of history as we look back at the aftermath. What will be the cost of lives that will be ultimately given in order to secure the future of our freedoms in the 21st Century? What will history record? Will love or self-interest rule the day? Only time will tell.
Who is your enemy, the one you cannot see
Who are those who are bent on hate
Destroying that which makes us free.
Who are we to judge the wrong that others feel is right
How do we be faithful in bringing truth to light?
Who is there to stand in hope as lives speak what they say
To bring a world to peace with God by walking in the way.