It’s been 20 years since that Tuesday morning when our world changed. For most of us, that change has been more of an external thing. For some of us, that change has been deeply personal. And on this 20th anniversary, while we come to terms with what has happened to our world over the last 20 years, I think that we need to refocus attention on what really happened that day, remembering the nearly 3000 people who died that day, and their families, and their friends, and all who faced that attack, not through television, but head on that day.
It was a diverse group of people who died that day. Most were men, but there were women and children killed that day with the ages spanning from 2 years old to 85 years old. Many were first responders—343 New York City firefighters, 23 officers of the NYPD, 37 officers of the Port Authority. Some were federal government employees. Most were employed by private businesses. Most were American citizens, but citizens of more than 90 countries died in the attack. And it was the diversity of the folks helping each other as they fled that day from lower Manhattan that stay with me 20 years later, because I remember thinking, at the time, as I watched the coverage on television, that it was this diversity that was our strength as a country, and if we could continue to help each other and to care for each other, despite all of our differences, then we could change the world for the better.
That’s still what I think despite 20 years during which attempts have been made to make us afraid of each other because we are different—to make us afraid of Muslims, of immigrants, of African Americans, of police officers, of Republicans, of Democrats, of the lessons of our own history, of whatever-it-is. The way of fear, it seems to me, has failed, from Afghanistan to violence in our own streets to ICU’s filled to overflowing with those dying from COVID. As people of faith, who have been taught the power of love, fear’s failure to make a better world should come as no surprise.
When I was in college back in the late 1970’s, I was a part of a small Christian fellowship group. That group shaped much of how I think about what it means to follow Jesus, and one of the songs that we often sang together was based on a Bible verse, Ephesians 2:14: “He (i.e.: Jesus) is our peace. We shall be one. He is our reconciliation. The wall of partition, he’s broken down. He is our peace. We shall be one.” And I pray that those of us who follow Jesus will find a way to break through the noise of anger and hate to point, instead, to the true strength there is in coming together, as we did that day 20 years ago, as one.
–Pastor Don Steele