Today I will meet two friends for lunch. The last time we were together on a 9/11 it was in the West Wing of the White House and it was 2001.
That day began like others at the time. I walked through the White House gates and I had a breakfast with one friend and then headed upstairs to see another. Then 9/11 happened. There was yelling and huddling and running and a massive display of weaponry – the Secret Service pulls weapons out of nowhere and the black-suited “CAT” (Counter Assault Team) makes the Secret Service guys seem like boys with pop guns. There was a jet overhead and a massive gathering of staffers on the ellipse facing the White House’s south lawn. There was every expectation we would see the White House destroyed by a plane.
With every passing year I expect to feel less and less. But every year the emotion and reality of what happened that day returns… viscerally returns. I can feel how warm the sun was and how black the smoke billowing from the Pentagon. I can see the matte black guns aimed toward the skies. I can hear people yelling, “RUN! RUN! RUN!” to get White House staff away from the building. I can smell the early fall day.
Such is the way of shock. It changes us. I can remember the other moment in my life that changed everything as well – that moment when I had a seizure while driving my car down Rock Creek Parkway in the minutes before Palm Sunday in 2003.
Both serve to remind me of many things but I try to focus on this – that I shouldn’t be surprised by the surprises. Life is never in our hands to control. We may love the illusion but that is all that is – an illusion. We live on a great, spinning green and blue rock hurtling through black space circling a fiery sun that is part of a solar system that is, itself, hurtling through the Milky Way that is, itself, hurtling through an infinite universe. We are not in control. The question is whether there is anyone or anything in control. I think that the answer to that is yes. That there is something greater and grander and bigger and more intimate than the universe and that he is God and Jesus is the fullest manifestation of his character. I don’t know why 9/11. I don’t know why a brain tumor in my head. I don’t know why suffering. I don’t know far more than I know. But at my best I trust and believe and that, I think, is better than thinking I have control because it is real.
We are still a wounded nation. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that we are more wounded than ever. I hope that we will remember 9/11 and remember the kindness that came amidst the horror and be gentle to each other and be gentle to ourselves once again.