September 11, 2021, is now over. Except it's never really over, is it? On the days leading up to it and on the day itself, the media aired multiple attributes, from interviews with now-grown children to the on-going health tolls on survivors.
This 20th anniversary milestone commemorated a milestone that changed our world, in both obvious and not-so-obvious ways.
It produced a generation of children born in the months afterwards who would never know their fathers. But they grew up, I suspect, with school observances that made them a focus once a year, publicly or privately, of their loss.
A generation of children who lost a mother they may not remember, depending on how old they were that day.
The near-losses, too, of those who for some reason didn't go to work that day or were delayed, or made it out, and therefore survived. To live with whatever guilt that produces.
These families and individuals who live with the memories and the effects--psychologically and physically--of that day. Who moved on beyond that catastrophic event, but still carry it with them.
And what about the rest of us? How did it change our world? What were we like, before and after?
Maybe the most obvious change is in air travel. Moving freely through an airport changed to maneuvering through checkpoints wondering if someone in line will manage to breach security and get a weapon through.
From sending loved ones off at the gate, or meeting them there, to greeting them upon their arrival in the luggage claim area.
Another change, not so obvious, but more pervasive, was the acceptance of surveillance on our phones and computers. Part of the Patriot Act, initially targeted at increasing our national security, but which ultimately stole some of our right to privacy without our even realizing it.
But there is a much more intrusive change, I think. And while it may anger some for me to say it, I will, anyway: I think ultimately, 9/11 made us a less Christian nation. Think about that for a minute . . .
Like many, I grew up with “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and the parable of the Good Samaritan. Just two examples of biblical directives to treat others as we would want to be treated, with acceptance and generosity.
I don't think our intolerance started with 9/11, but I think our fear of “The Other” was enhanced by it until it eventually ran smack into increasingly divisive politics and a pandemic that have fueled hatred and intensified not just “me first,” but “me only” attitudes.
The Letter of James, in the New Testament, says “What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? . . .faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” (James 2: 14). Pretty specific. But where is that in our thinking today? How does it influence, or fail to influence, how we act?
If this 20th anniversary of 9/11 is anything more than a distant event in our collective memory, it should prompt some contemplation on who we were and who we are now.
Maybe that refection could start with the sobering question, “Did we let AL-Qaeda win, after all? Did 9/11 ultimately weaken us as a nation?
In the immediate aftermath, we saw a great coming together in our country. Thousands were affected, directly or indirectly, and we united to present a front that said “We will not let this break us.”
But today, as we struggle to get this pandemic under control and argue about our “rights” and embrace a world of distrust and conspiracies, where have we landed? Where have we landed as we build verbal and/or physical barriers against “The Other” ?
And more importantly, where are we headed? Will we work to reunite a nation founded on a principle of equality, or will we continue to allow the darker forces of division and exclusion to suppress the ideals that our country once embraced?