This September 11th is one of sifting back through old memories and reliving as an adult the stories of my youth. The feelings have a strength fourteen years after the fact that is surprising. As an 11-year old, the gravity of the situation was not lost on me. Yet what was unknown or scary to me then has been replaced by a deeper empathy, sensitivities that are born through maturity and growing more into a woman’s heart. Even at the time, the events of September 11th, 2001 impacted me greatly because of my father’s profession.
I live in the Midwest and before that day, I didn’t know what the World Trade Center even was. Nobody I really knew even lived on the east coast and so my feelings were based on the stories I heard, wondering what was happening in our country, and recognizing that if I had lived in New York, my life might be very different.
For all of my youth, I was proud of the fact that my father was a firefighter in a nearby city. On September 11th, as I saw firefighters respond for their duties, I felt a kinship that is born of knowing your beloved firefighter would race into that building right along with them. The stories of firefighters climbing dozens of flights in full gear, directing people to the exit, telling them they were going to make it out as they continued to climb higher, reduced me to tears. It didn’t take too much of an imagination for me to picture the same being true of my father. Fire engine crews being absolved by the department chaplain before entering the burning building. With hearts beating wildly in their chests, a brotherhood of firefighters carrying out the wounded. That would have been my dad, too.
This year I didn’t just recall 9/11, I returned to the news footage, I heard the confusion in people’s voice, I re-read stories of heroism. My heart felt again that ache and my patriotism was again aroused. Because I remember after 9/11 how the country was bonded together and how “God bless America” was not uttered as a passing comment but as something we infused in our very marrow. In a country that now daily bleeds division in terms of political party, religious creed, color, and wealth, it was refreshing to go back to a day of devastation and remember the unity that is forged through suffering and pain. The 11-year old Trish wept for people she had never met, for families she never knew. It was not anger that drew us together, even though there was a decent amount of that, but it was a mutual love of our own country and the experience of communal woundedness.
I watched most of the CNN live coverage of 9/11. Story after story, I read about firefighters who offered themselves for those they had a responsibility to protect. For my students, this is an event they learn about in history class, something foreign to them that they are told is important. Yet for me it is a defining moment of the age I grew up in. It is one of those memorable historic events that makes an impression on young and old souls alike.
Despite my love for my nation, conflicted and tormented though it be at times, I cannot simply stop at recalling 9/11. I must extend this awareness of suffering and warfare to those around the world. The Syrian refugees who are fleeing, the conflict in the Middle East, the impact of radical Islam on their neighboring Christians. September 11th is but one of the instances of humanity willingly inflicting pain on humanity. On that day of national remembrance, I led a prayer with my students, pleading for peace for the whole world. It isn’t as though there are just wounds that are fourteen years old, there are daily wounds being made, blood still pouring out, “the voice of your brother’s blood is crying…from the ground.” (Gen. 4:10) And the Lord is asking, “What have you done?” It is not enough to recall, we must respond.
Peace is fervently needed. Our world is aching for peace, our country’s deep-seated tension is pleading for peace, our families are battle-weary, and our very souls are hungry for internal unity. Global peace is only attained through the soul-peace being achieved by each person. When we experience honesty and integrity in the most difficult areas of our life. When I cease to battle against the Lord of my soul and seek to understand my very self in way that may seem frightening or off-putting.
As we sift back through the memories of old hurts, of the traumas of humanity, may we also experience a renewed desire for peace and hearts of compassion to encounter those in their war-torn moments. May our yearning for union override our wanting to win at all costs. May the Queen of Peace pour grace and mercy upon our world that will bring us to unwavering peace, starting with our own souls.