September 2011

9/11

It was ten years ago that four large jets were hijacked and turned into missiles of destruction for targets in our country: the two World Trade Towers, the Pentagon, and another target that was never reached thanks to the self-sacrificing courage of the jet’s passengers.  Ten years…  It doesn’t feel like ten years, though it is.  The experience of that day is deeply imprinted within us, and the effects of that day continue to shape the way we live today, profoundly.

            An iconic image for me is a dream that one of my friends has had many nights since 9/11.  Marjorie was in the American Express building across the walkway from the World Trade Towers.  She saw it happen.  She was one of the lucky ones who made it down and out of the building without bodily injury.  She walked from Battery Park up to Marble Collegiate Church where she and dozens of others gathered after fleeing Ground Zero.  She saw the inferno, the falling debris, and the falling bodies.  In her dream, she finds herself standing in a tall wheat field, such as you might see on the plains of Kansas.  It is a clear day, blue sky, warm with a light breeze through the grain.  Idyllic.  She hears the sound of an engine in the distance.  Gradually it grows louder.  Then she sees the plane, small at first, but growing larger and larger.  It is flying at ground level straight at her.  Just before it crashes into her, she awakens with a scream.  The dream haunts her.  Having heard it from her, it haunts me.

            On September 11, 2001, our nation experienced it’s vulnerability as never before, except perhaps at Pearl Harbor.  If there is a difference, it may be in the nature of the targets: the one primarily civilian, and the other primarily military.  Other than Hawaii, I don’t think Americans have experienced military combat within our borders since the Civil War.  We have fought our enemies abroad before they reached our shores.  On 9/11, some of those who hate the United States brought the terror of war to us.

            Why?  That is a question that was raised in the days and weeks immediately following the attack.  Why would these 19 men be willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to wreak destruction and terror on us?  Why did they hate us so much?  Can we really just write them off as deranged, deluded, or simply evil?  Perhaps so; perhaps not.  It seems to me that the public conversation around this question disappeared too quickly.  Ten years have come and gone, along with hundreds of billions of dollars, and thousands more lives lost in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  To what end?  Perhaps the passage of ten years can provide us with the distance and perspective with which to take up the question once again.

            What can we learn about our world, about ourselves, about what makes for security, about what makes for peace.  There are no easy answers, and there will certainly not be unanimity of opinion.  But the conversation is crucial.  We are not, and can never be invulnerable.  I remember a line from the movie “In the Line of Fire.”  Clint Eastwood played a Secret Service agent, assigned to protect the president, with his life if necessary.  John Malkovich played an assassin determined to kill the president.  In the movie, Eastwood tells another agent that the odds were good they could foil an assassin who wanted to kill and then escape.  However, he pointed out, the odds were very bad if the assassin was prepared to die in the attempt.

            Jesus calls us to a discipleship that is committed to reconciliation, healing, and peace.  What are our national priorities for our foreign relationships?  Do we deserve any of the hatred or resentment we experience from abroad?  Is there a way we could engage the international community that would be more constructive than what is happening now?  I certainly don’t know, but I’d like there to be such a conversation in the halls of government, in the board rooms of business, in the houses of worship and town halls, and in the public square.  We should be calling for it and voting for it.  Perhaps we should even be praying for it.