I think everyone remembers where they were 14 years ago when the horrific events took place. I was in another parish and had just finished the celebration of Mass. A staff member greeted me right away and said that there was an attack in New York. I felt the need to get to a television to find out what was happening but the Parish was not wired for cable television but we did have televisions that were used to play DVDs. So I quickly grabbed a wire hangar and fashioned an antenna to be able to use on one of the televisions to get news. After playing with the makeshift antenna for a few moments a picture came in. The images were a little fuzzy but I could hardly believe what was being shown. I remember telling myself that it can’t be real in spite of the images that were being played. Then, the second plane struck. News about the pentagon came in. News about another plane going down was broadcast. The disregard for human life was more than I could digest. Back at home later in the day, I sat in front of a clear picture on the television, but my mind was no less fuzzy about all that had taken place. The images of people coming out of the building covered in soot. The anguish on the faces of those who were right there. The horror of the building collapsing. The shock at the number of people trapped, killed, slain for no good reason at all. The thoughts of “how will we ever recover from this?” Those images will never go away, how could we not remember.
The days that followed were filled with chaos. Flights cancelled everywhere – people stranded away from loved ones at such a devastating time. The lists of the missing. The wreckage. The replaying of the images over and over again. Speculation from news stations, commentators, analysts, politicians and anyone else who could get near a microphone. But amidst all the chaos, something remarkable happened in those days following 9/11/2001. Something happened that the terrorists did not count on. Something happened that brought hope. Something happened that painted a picture that showed that we would recover. Something happened that brought about a clarity that all was not hopeless.
In those days that followed, people came together. They came together not just to shake their heads in disbelief. They came together to help. They volunteered to help in New York. They came together to support the families of those who had died. They came together to hold each other, support one another, comfort one another. They came together without answers. They came together to pray. Churches were full. There were still tears of sadness, grief, disbelief and shock, but united as a people, there was hope. What happened in those days was remarkable. Differences were put aside. The ideologies that can separate no longer seemed to be so important. People came together with no thought of political, religious, racial, economic or geographical differences. The only thing that seemed to matter was that we were together. Past grievances were put aside. Past hurts were forgotten. People came together in communities. They came together as families. They came together in Churches. It seemed that as long as they could come together, there was hope. In the weeks that followed there was still unity. Thoughts had turned to those who were known or presumed dead. Words of comfort went out to families, coworkers, friends. The words came from those who were known to the grieving families and they came from complete strangers. Somehow there seemed to be a belief that we were no longer strangers, we were simply in this together – and together we would survive.
There were also many promises made during that devastating time. Promises to remember what was important. Promises to pay attention to the needs of those around us. Promises to not take relationships for granted. Promises to be kinder, gentler and more loving. There were promises to do the things that had somehow been put on hold – volunteering at a soup kitchen, working with children, taking that trip, visiting extended family. There were promises to not take God for granted – promises to pray more, read the Bible, acknowledge the blessings in life, go to Church to be with community, be nourished by the Sacraments, change some of the bad habits that had crept in somewhere along the journey. There were promises to be less self-absorbed, less greedy, more generous, less judgmental, more accepting, more tolerant, more understanding. There was a promise made to never forget.
I think we have done what we can to remember the lives that were lost in those attacks, maybe not perfectly, but to assure that the lives of the airline crews, passengers, office workers, police, fire fighters, emergency personnel, military personnel and those just passing by would be remembered. We have remembered to do something that would ensure that lives that ended tragically would not be forgotten. There are memorials, services and written accounts to make sure that future generations will know what transpired on that tragic day. There are the accounts of those brave people rushing in to burning buildings with no concern for their own safety. It is well documented so that we will never forget them – and we should not. No matter how much time goes by, they will be remembered and they will matter.
But there is more that we need to remember – there is more that we should not forget. We should not forget what it was like when everyone came together. We cannot forget how much strength was experienced when for a brief time nothing mattered except to be there for each other. We must not forget the promises made. We dare not forget how unity and love smothered the fire of fear that terrorism sought to ignite. We must not forget the real values in life that were made so clear on that horrible day – values that remind us that family is important, community is necessary, God is present, taking people or life for granted is dangerous, we need concern for more than ourselves, generosity makes us rich, love is the most powerful force anywhere. It has been 14 years since those attacks took place and during that time those values have seemed to gotten blurry in too many instances. There is more greed, less caring, more taking for granted, more intolerance, more judgmental attitudes, more ideologies getting in the way of embracing the real sacredness of life and there is more fear. Take a glance at social media, listen to talk shows, read the papers, listen to the politicians, witness the way we are living as a society and it does not take much to notice that many of those values are absent.
Today, we are called to remember. We are reminded that we must never forget. We must never forget the lives of those who were cut short because of hatred. We must not forget to make their lives mean something – to offer tribute to their lives. The best tribute we can offer is to remember those lessons that were learned in the days and weeks and months after the attack. The best tribute we can give them is to take up those promises that were made individually or collectively as a nation in the aftermath of their deaths. Yes, the memorials, the books, the services, the stories are all good and fitting but they pale in comparison to giving honor with our own lives.
We are called to remember. We must never forget. We must never forget that individually we are weak but together, we can overcome anything.