10 years after 9/11, reflect and remember
by Nathan Day Wilson
Sept. 11, 2001, is personal.
That day, I was supposed to be in Washington, D.C., at a place not far from the Pentagon.
Instead, due to change in my itinerary, I was in a meeting in Charleston, W.Va. During a break in the meeting, my brother called. He was nearly breathless when he asked if I was in D.C. and if I knew what was happening. Since my answer was “no” to both, he fussed at me for the time he and my parents worried and then told me to find a TV immediately!
While watching replays of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center, the 12 gathered around our conference table suspected that this was not — as one TV commentator insisted — simply pilot error; however, it wasn’t until the second plane crashed that one person in our group uttered the word “terrorism.”
That very moment — the moment I heard that word and tried to process what it meant — still sends chills up my back.
I received many calls that day from family, from friends, from colleagues, from the media. One call was from a religious leader asking me to help write a response to the terrorism. I said yes because of my respect for this person, but at that moment I was still in so much shock that I had a hard time imagining what we would say.
After (long) conference calls and reviewing multiple drafts over the next 48 hours, we had a statement to circulate. We titled the statement “Deny Them Their Victory: A Religious Response to Terrorism.”
The excerpts below are as relevant today as they were 10 years ago:
“We, American religious leaders, share the broken hearts of our fellow citizens. The worst terrorist attack in American history that assaulted New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania has been felt in every American community. Each life lost was of unique and sacred value in the eyes of God, and the connections Americans feel to those lives run very deep. In the face of such a cruel catastrophe, it is a time to look to God and to each other for the strength we need and the response we will make. We must dig deep to the roots of our faith for sustenance, solace and wisdom.
“First, we must find a word of consolation for the untold pain and suffering of our people. Our congregations will offer their practical and pastoral resources to bind up the wounds of the nation. We can become safe places to weep and secure places to begin rebuilding our shattered lives and communities. Our houses of worship should become public arenas for common prayer, community discussion, eventual healing and forgiveness.
“Second, we offer a word of sober restraint as our nation discerns what its response will be. We share the deep anger toward those who so callously and massively destroy innocent lives, no matter what the grievances or injustices invoked. In the name of God, we too demand that those responsible for these utterly evil acts be found and brought to justice. Those culpable must not escape accountability. But we must not, out of anger and vengeance, indiscriminately retaliate in ways that bring on even more loss of innocent life. We pray that President Bush and members of Congress will seek the wisdom of God as they decide upon the appropriate response.
“Third, we face deep and profound questions of what this attack on America will do to us as a nation. The terrorists have offered us a stark view of the world they would create, where the remedy to every human grievance and injustice is a resort to the random and cowardly violence of revenge — even against the most innocent. Having taken thousands of our lives, attacked our national symbols, forced our political leaders to flee their chambers of governance, disrupted our work and families, and struck fear into the hearts of our children, the terrorists must feel victorious.
“But we can deny them their victory by refusing to submit to a world created in their image. Terrorism inflicts not only death and destruction but also emotional oppression to further its aims. We must not allow this terror to drive us away from being the people God has called us to be. We assert the vision of community, tolerance, compassion, justice, and the sacredness of human life, which lies at the heart of all our religious traditions. America must be a safe place for all our citizens in all their diversity. It is especially important that our citizens who share national origins, ethnicity or religion with whoever attacked us are, themselves, protected among us.”
We concluded the statement this way: “Let us make the right choices in this crisis — to pray, act, and unite against the bitter fruits of division, hatred and violence. Let us rededicate ourselves to global peace, human dignity, and the eradication of the injustice that breeds rage and vengeance.”
Ten years later, how well are we doing? Have we denied the terrorists their victory? Have we advanced global peace and human dignity?
Sept. 11, 2001, was a day of terrible tragedy. It was also day that we witnessed terrific acts of courage, compassion and commitment to a better future. Strangers became neighbors, thrown together by outrage, drawn together by concern. People of different races, religions, nationalities and even political parties remembered what is important in life: Each other.
Let’s make this year a time to mark our progress, honor our first responders, remember courageous acts and, above all, work for peace for peace, not hostility, for all of God’s children!