DISCLAIMER: This is not a political commentary. So in this post I will not re-litigate the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq or speculate on what President Bush should or shouldn’t have done or what President Obama is or isn’t doing. I will not comment on Islam or terrorism. And I will not mention the Patriot Act, Homeland Security, the TSA or warrantless surveillance. You have been warned.
This past weekend I watched some of the coverage of the various tributes, remembrances and events surrounding the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It brought back memories of the surreal, shocking, traumatic nature of that day. I read several takes by various political pundits, social commentators and theologians about what 9/11 meant and still means. Some of them were good and a few of them bordered on the ridiculous. Generally speaking, I can’t really speak to what an event like this “means” to much of anyone other than myself and I am not sure that there are many who can (although there seems to be no shortage of people willing to try). With that in mind, I do have a few observations/thoughts about what has stood out to me.
1. “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” – This is the opening line of C.S. Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed”. Man, that is true. I think that oftentimes it is hard to separate grief and fear. The emotions are so similar that they tend to bleed into each other. And there are so many aspects of how they overlap. After 9/11, I was certain that we would experience another attack. We haven’t experienced another one, although there have been attacks in other places like London as well as other attempts in the U.S. The feeling of vulnerability has faded over time, but I am not sure that the actual vulnerability has. For those who were directly affected, such as those who lost loved ones in the attack or in the wars, the grief is much easier to locate. I, on the other hand, haven’t been directly affected in any truly tangible way. So one wonders what the emotions are really all about. What am I grieving? Or what I am afraid of? The chances of me being directly affected by an act of terrorism are pretty small. I don’t live in fear of that at all. So why do I have an emotional investment in 9/11? Is it just patriotism? I think that it is just the reminder of the fragility of life that rocks us. We just don’t like to think about the fact that our everyday world can be shattered in an instant.
2. One of the lasting images of 9/11 for me is the raw physical courage exhibited by First Responders. Firefighters and police officers running toward Ground Zero and into harm’s way while others are running out of the damaged buildings makes an indelible impression. Similar stories of courage regarding soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan also make their mark. Before 9/11 it seems to me that physical courage in the face of mortal danger had been deemphasized in our society. In past times, this kind of courage was often central to the survival of a society. Everyday life presented the opportunity for this kind of courage a lot more often than it does for most of us today. But this kind of courage has been a cardinal virtue throughout human history. Cultures of every kind recognize and value it. The display of this kind of selfless disregard for one’s own safety and well-being on behalf of another touches something in me that nothing else does. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13 ESV) If a society puts this kind of courage on the back burner, then at the end of the day we are putting love on the back burner. There is no other conclusion I can come to. Heroism and courage are real. They are not a punch line. Love is not sentimentality. It is laying down one’s life. I am thankful for those who showed it on 9/11 (and afterwards) and who show it in every day life. Lord, may it increase in my life and in our land.
3. I am an opinionated person. You can ask me about almost anything and I am glad to give you my take. As a society, we have no shortage of opinionators. Our political process is full of full-throated bloviation. Our culture gives almost any viewpoint a megaphone. I think that most of us would be better off doing a lot less opinionating and a lot more shutting up. There are very few people, times, places and subjects where the world really needs to hear my point of view. I know that a blog post seems to be a pretty incongruent place to express that thought, but I think you know what I mean. It is one thing to give a voice to one’s thoughts in a way that is humble and responsible. It is another to blast away as if everyone else’s lives would not be complete without knowing our thoughts on the subject (whatever that subject is). All viewpoints aren’t equal. A platform to speak should really be earned. The best way to earn that platform is by actually contributing something of value to others. Even then, that platform can be abused by careless words and arrogant thoughts. Unfortunately, I saw that demonstrated around the 9/11 remembrances this past weekend. More than one commentator with a platform abused their platform. I hope that they didn’t cause too much pain with their carelessness and arrogance. I don’t have control over what they say or do, but I can think about how I use the influence that I do have (such as it is).
Thankfully, days like 9/11 don’t happen very often. But every day has its share of pain, trauma and loss for someone. Life is always fragile and we should be thankful for it. I may not be called upon to risk my life for someone else today, but I know I am called upon to lay down my life in some way for someone today. It may be a small service in the big scheme of things, but I don’t know of any other way to be ready for the big things except by being faithful in the small things. Maybe the best service I can give to others today is to use the platform that I have to speak carefully so as to add value and not to tear down.