My husband and I were sound asleep that morning, oblivious to the nightmare underway in New York City on September 11, 2001. Pounding on the front door sent us stumbling from our bed to find our elderly neighbor, a World War II combat veteran, looking extremely agitated.
“We’re under attack!” he shouted. “Turn on the TV!” With that, he hurried back across the street.
Like every other American, we were utterly horrified by the devastation we watched unfolding on our television screen that morning. How could this be happening? And why?
Our five sons ranged in age from 3 to 13 years old back then and we did our best to reassure them and answer their questions throughout the day and the bewildering days that followed.
Another mom from our parish had even more difficult questions to try to answer. Her husband and the father of her children was killed in the Twin Towers during the attack. Years later, her son became our eldest son’s college roommate.
I caught up with Donna and her son Andrew recently to see how they were doing as the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of 9/11 approaches. Their graciousness and gentle answers took my breath away.
“Although it is somber, my children and I are peaceful and filled with joy at the years we had Gary and the manner in which we have survived and bonded as the successor family,” Donna texted me. “My two children will be with me on the 11th this year … we are currently planning something perfectly appropriate to remember Dad and figure out how to move forward joyfully.”
Andrew sent an email in response to my query.
“Having lost my father in these attacks, I feel deeply linked with this collective pain, and a duty to do whatever I can to help our nation heal,” Andrew wrote. “This year, as a man who has taken full advantage of the opportunity granted to him to heal from this traumatizing experience, I challenge anyone reading this to adopt this perspective of that fateful day. I challenge you to do whatever is necessary to extract the beautiful, the graceful, the benevolently meaningful from that day.”
And as for the major divisions that are tearing apart our nation in 2021, Andrew had this to say: “I still deeply believe in the power that we as a nation exhibited on September 11, 2001 … We can use the pain and struggle we all felt on that day — and more importantly, what we learned and how strong we became — to overcome the divisive issues which plague our nation, and become yet much stronger and united.”
Remember how united we were for a short time back in 2001? Remember how we prayed and grieved with each other? Remember how we turned to God for healing? How our churches filled up with people seeking answers, seeking solace?
We need to get back to that. Our nation needs healing and our current method of dealing with our collective challenges just isn’t working. Families and friendships have been broken. Lives have been lost. And anger seems to boil over at every turn. What exactly has all this achieved?
It’s time to turn back to God, to repent of our sins and take on His gentle yoke. With a growing percentage of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated (about 36 percent of people 30 years of age and younger) there’s a great opportunity to share the love, the hope and the healing that can only be found in a humble God who gave His only begotten Son to save us from sin and death.
It wasn’t so many years ago we intoned “God bless America.” Today, I’m thinking the motto might need a bit of revision: “America, bless God.” Perhaps then we will find the peace we long for. Without it, we will surely crumble.