In many ways, I feel like an outsider every September 11th since that fateful one in 2001.
That Tuesday started for me much as every middle school morning in Liberty Hill did: I woke up early. I slipped into my workout clothes and knee pads, putting my school clothes and Girl Scout vest in a bag for after athletics. I munched on a granola bar as my mom drove me to school. I hopped out of the car and ran inside to begin warming up for volleyball practice.
Everything seemed normal until a teacher ran into the gym, flagging down our coach, who was in the middle of running a drill with us. Our coach paused as the teacher whispered something her ear. I was poised, next in line, waiting to dig up the spike, when my coach suddenly froze. She dropped the volleyball without a word and ran across the gym, into her office, where she slammed the heavy wooden door.
Confused, I stood up straight, turning to look behind me at the line of other 13 year-old volleyball players. One of them, Kelly, shrugged and grabbed a ball. She tossed it up in the air and started warming up with another girl. The tension dissipated, and we didn’t think anything of it for the rest of the morning.
In my next period, band, fourteen students were missing. In the next, I was one of ten students. All of our teachers seemed on edge, but not a word of hijacked planes or New York City crossed their lips. We were in the dark, left absolutely clueless – and in an age where cell phones weren’t the norm for every six year-old, why wouldn’t we be?
It was only when I was sitting at a cafeteria table, chewing on the turkey wrap my mother had packed for me the night before, that I finally caught on to what was making that Tuesday so odd.
“The World Trade Center was bombed,” I heard, and looked over to my friend Ashley. She had just gotten back from the dentist, where she’d been sitting in a waiting room with a television. Her eyes were alarmed as she monitored the cafeteria for teachers.
“What’s the World Trade Center?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s in New York, and it’s been bombed. And the Pentagon, too.”
“The Pentagon?” I said, shocked. I did know what that was.
“Yes, but don’t tell anyone,” she forbade us. “Mrs. West doesn’t want us to know about it. She told me when I came back to school.”
I was confused. “Why not?”
“Because she doesn’t think we’ll be able to focus if we’re afraid.”
Both sides of my family have been in Texas almost since they arrived in the United States (and rarely traveled outside of it, especially at that point in my life), so bombs in New York City and Washington DC, while awful, didn’t seem like much to worry about. I tucked the news about the bombs into the back of my mind – even though it seems unfeeling now – next to my mental list of things to do after school: Girl Scout meeting, math homework, and the fact that it was Paige’s turn to put away dishes after dinner that night.
It was only later, when I saw an image of a man jumping out of a smoke-blackened skyscraper, his tie fluttering in the wind, that I finally felt what the rest of the country was feeling.
Horror. Disbelief. Anger.
And fear. A fear as thick, cloying, and debilitating as an anesthetic. A fear that reached into our hearts and clenched its vice-like grip around our acceptance, our charity, and our good will.
Fear gripped the United States that day, and, in my estimation, hasn’t loosened its hold.
Over the following couple of years, we became a hollow facsimile of who we once were. Neighbors turned against neighbors. People were reported to the FBI because of their ‘suspicious’ behavior (and, usually, ethnicity or religion). Phone lines were wiretapped, internet use went under surveillance, and people smashed CDs because of the artist’s political convictions.
Airport security changed drastically. Even now, we take off our shoes, belts, jackets, and jewelry when going through airport security. We throw out our over-three-ounces bottles of hand sanitizer before we go through the checkpoint. We submit to being physically patted down. We keep an eye out for unattended luggage. We don’t even joke about using a word like ‘bomb’ while waiting to board a plane.
We are not who we once were. We are afraid.
Many innocent, undeserving lives were lost that day. A friend of mine put up a statistic recently that 76% of the victims in the towers were men with children under the age of 18. That’s a lot of fatherless children. That’s a lot of grief. That’s more than enough reason to behave the way we have and still do.
But that is not how God calls us to behave.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10
God calls us to do the unpopular thing: fear and love Him alone.
“The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1
God calls us to do the meekest thing: trust Him alone.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
God calls us to do the most impossible thing: forgive those who hurt us.
Trust and forgiveness are likely not things you will hear much about today. You will, however, hear about remembrance, patriotism, and, if you’re very unlucky, a Toby Keith song that warbles about how ‘the colors on our flag don’t run.’
We shouldn’t forget about what happened. We shouldn’t forget the lives that were lost. We should be grateful for a country that lets us live in more freedom than most in the world experience.
But like Paul wrote in the letter to Colosse: as you remember, forgive as the Lord forgave you. Look back and put on the virtue of love, which binds everything together in perfect unity.
Also - Mr. Keith, sir? Please don’t sing again. Ever. I forgave you once for ruining real country music, and it’s hard to do so over and over again.