It was 16 years ago, seemingly within minutes, that the world changed so dramatically. Not just for our nation, but for hundreds of millions of people around the globe. We all know what happened on the morning of September 11, 2001. We all know where we were when we heard the news, when we saw it. Like lightning, two airliners slammed into the upper floors of the World Trade Centers, and another plane crashed into the Pentagon. Most nations immediately let the United States citizens know they stood with us as “Americans” too. “We identify with you in your tremendous pain,” was the message they sent. We felt it strongly ourselves among our own fellow citizens.
I remember the next day, the first time I went to the store after those horrific events, catching the eyes of total strangers and smiling tenderly and knowingly. They did the same back to me. Unmistakably, we both knew what we were communicating to one another without words: “I recognize the terrible and all-possessing shock and sadness you feel for the hundreds who died yesterday and for the future of our dear country. I’m with you and we are all one people now.” It was more than palpable. It was as obvious as the event itself.
We were all one, regardless of race, neighborhood, income, faith, education. We all spoke of God and His help, protection, and care for the families now missing loved ones. To do so was not controversial in the least. The noisy secular organizations warning of the “necessary” separation of Church and State sat silently. They knew how tone-deaf their typical cries would sound. And if your message doesn’t serve people in the midst of their despair, but does just the opposite, you know there is something wrong with your work.
It is sad that that comforting feeling of being “one nation under God” did not last longer and that it takes such a great tragedy to remind us that we are. We should remember this experience we all had as we consider the dramatic racial and cultural tensions we’re seeing played out in the news today. Even though we have our problems here and there, and those must be attended to with grace and repentance, we do generally get along with our neighbors of different races and ethnicities. We support each other, watch out for each other’s homes and children. We are friends at work, and we greet each other at the store and when walking around the neighborhood. We desire to know, learn, and celebrate things about each other’s cultures, appreciating how they are different than our own. Americans, for the most part, have long been this way.
Might we, as we remember this year’s anniversary of 9/11, recall how we were once one people for those many months and call ourselves and our neighbors to become that way again? To overcome the evil of hatred with love and kindness, reaching out to serve and protect others, regardless of our differences?
We must remember that Jesus carved all the commandments down to two. Love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, with everything we have. And love our neighbor as ourselves, particularly those who are quite different than we are and may even be rejected by the rest of society. That is our calling, in times of turmoil and trial, as well as in times of peace and well-being.