Today marks the twentieth anniversary of a watershed event in our nation’s history.
Every so often, one seems to appear. December 7, 1941. November 22, 1963. September 11, 2001 – all are dates that live in infamy in our minds. Those of us who were alive for any such event can tell you precisely what we were doing when we heard the news. We can recount the remaining affairs of the day. What happened in the days and weeks that followed. All of those moments that linger in our minds.
September 11th especially recalls to mind the words of everyone’s favorite Presbyterian minister, Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always see people helping.'”
More than anything else that I can remember about those days two decades ago, I remember the remarkable helpers. From the firefighters and police officers, as well as simple neighbors in New York City who helped in the aftermath of the twin towers, or the brave men and women of our military and the first responders at the Pentagon, or those who gave their lives on Flight 93 – there were helpers all around. And that was just the first wave. There were faith leaders in every major city, every town, every village, from all three Abrahamic faiths and every other faith opening up houses of worship to pray. There were counselors and teachers giving space for students and children of all ages to ask the hard questions. To this day, there are still people who continue to help with the perpetual aftermath and lingering effects on those whose families were involved in the immediate crises.
Twenty years later it is remarkable to look back and realize how much the world has changed. We now have an entire generation who has no knowledge of those days or their fallout. My own children have no recollection. Even my older bonus daughters were far too young to remember, being less than six months old at the time. How do we explain such a powerful moment in our common, shared story to them? And after all this time, what is the greatest take away we might hold onto?
For me, at least, I am still holding tight to the image of the way we helped one another. The way we held each other up as we cried our eyes out. Ran towards the trouble to protect our neighbors. Walked with each other through the long, hard road back from such a difficult and shadow-filled place.
As many faith leaders from a variety of traditions have noted long before me, those are the places where God was present in the midst of such a day – all those moments where we saw the very best of God’s people helping one another.
My hope is that it will not take another tragedy of so great a magnitude to see God’s children rise together to help one another again.
Blessings, Pastor Janie