It was, without a doubt, a spectacular and memorable trip. You know, the kind you remember forever, even if it becomes a bit fuzzy over time. The kind you scrapbook about.
The family outing to New York City was the first time my daughter saw the Big Apple. I had seen it countless times, but “the” City’s uniqueness and towering majesty never ceased to amaze me. The overcast skies did nothing to dampen enthusiasm and awe as we did many of the requisite tourist stops, including the observation deck at the Empire State Building. Today, we weren’t trying to look like natives; we were unabashed tourists and I got to see the City again through the eyes of a child. It was June 2001.
Little did we know that a few months later, everything would change. The abandon with which we toured the city would be replaced by many other emotions—and frankly, it didn’t matter how far you were from New York, D.C. or some out-of-the-way place in Pennsylvania called Shanksville.
Our world shook.
I remember sitting (for the first time—the ultimate Murphy’s Law) in Women’s Bible Study at church when the cacophony of dozen of cellphones broke into our solemn moment of prayer. Families were frantically calling each other to report what was on the news. New York City was being attacked—that was what we first heard. Since I was near my daughter’s school, I sprinted to pull her out, bringing her home so we could be together. On the way home, I wondered how much I should “protect” her from what was going on. Do we watch the news together? Do I downplay this? In the end, she watched me glued to the TV as events were still unfolding: a second plane; the first tower goes down; people running on the street away from the sight in panic, fear and to save their own lives; the second tower goes down. Every flight in the U.S. grounded, but are they all grounded? We live near Three Mile Island and an airport. Are we safe? The Pentagon, Shanksville. The battery of events seemed like a hammer to our reality and emotions. I still get teary-eyed as I write this.
One of the things that crossed my mind that day was “What kind of world is my daughter going to grow up in?” Since then, the feeling of helplessness that day has morphed into a new normal. We’ve learned to live with extra security measures. No big deal when in early 2002 we saw armed soldiers at the airport on our “escape” to Disney World. Now it is second nature to go through security, look for stray backpacks, report on strangers. My daughter is in college, taking a course on racial formation in European countries, focused on, among other things, the challenges of integrating those from Muslim cultures. We all adjusted.
But in doing so, did we forget?
I yearn for the days when we truly could walk our streets (of any city) without concern for safety on our own soil. I pray for those who directly lost loved ones on 9-11 and for the lost innocence of us all. Most especially, I pray that God softens the hearts of those that continue to hate us for just being the U.S.
I lift up those communities around the world where our 9-11 seems to play out every day, with moms having to squeeze their kids tightly each morning, watching them walk to school or get on the bus, not really knowing what terrors may face them, terrors that often are the result of hate and differences in faith.
May God give our leaders the wisdom to know when to stand strong against the bullies who would take our freedoms from us, when to seek justice, and when to bend and reach out a hand in peace.
We need strength and justice, tempered by a yearning for peace. God help us to remember to appreciate what we have, learn from what happened and seek ways to make this a better world.