I was in the hardware store when I first heard the news, though I did not know what I was hearing. As the cashier tallied my purchase, I overheard a reporter on the store’s radio make the peculiar announcement that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At the time, I thought of it as little more than a curiosity. How wrong I was.
It’s been ten years since that September morning, and still I can recall the horror and heroics of that day. The pancaking towers, the daring and duty-bound firefighters, the dust-soaked city of New York, and the ash-covered-walking-wounded, stumbling like ghosts through Manhattan. Each September since 9/11, when the proper and solemn remembrance ceremonies begin, I am tempted to believe the now faded bumper stickers that were so common in the months following the tragedy: The stickers read, “We Will Never Forget.” Not true. We will forget.
No, those who lived in the cities directly attacked will never forget. Those who huddled around television sets as bewildered and confused witnesses will never forget. And of course, those who buried their loved ones murdered in the attacks would easier forget their own names as forget that Tuesday morning. But those following us will forget. They are not calloused or forgetful. They are simply too young. Most of the students who entered college this fall were in elementary school ten years ago, and many of this generation (including my own children), were even younger or not yet born.
This is more than a generation that thinks Starbucks and cell phones were created shortly after Adam and Eve; that can text eighty words a minute, but can’t write in cursive; that has never known the limitation of having only three network television channels, and can’t imagine life without Google and YouTube. This is a generation that will come to maturity in the shadow of a dreadful event not even in their collective memory.
Yes, I want my children (and the generations to come) to remember and reflect upon these events. I want them to forever hold in their memory the suffering and injustice of that day and the days that have followed. But I do not want them to cloud their memories with the notion that the “world was changed forever on 9/11,” for it was not. Violence, retaliation, the suffering of the innocent, and the struggle for power have been around for all of human history. 9/11, rather than changing that status quo, was another brutal, heart-rending chapter in the same narrative. To say that 9/11 is the defining, irreversible mark on human history is to give evil and injustice far too much credit; and for followers of Jesus to say such a thing, it is a loss faith.
Consider, that whenever Christians gather, they gather to remember, celebrate, and hopefully integrate into their lives a profound event from the past, an event to which the Eucharist and the Creeds point: “Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and was buried; but on the third day he rose again.” Our faith informs us that Jesus took all the hate, evil, retaliation, death, and rejection the world could muster, and when the world had done its worst, he responded with his best. He overcame all of these with resurrected life, goodness, and hope. This is the defining event of our past, the memory we will never forget, and the trajectory for our future.
Yes, I will bow my head and say a prayer for those taken away from us a decade ago. I will give thanks for the rescue workers, the firefighters, and those who tried to save and serve the hurt and dying. I will ask God to assuage the sorrow of the families and friends left to grieve. But when I am finished praying, I will work for peace; I will seek to overcome evil with good; I will pursue the example of Jesus; and I will teach my children to remember properly. Remember that grace, not hate, will have the final word.