For people about my age, two events are of the sort that prompt memories of where we were and what we were doing at the time we heard about the particular disaster. One of these events is the crash of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986. The other is 9/11/01.
Today is the 10 year anniversary of the latter of these two events. I do remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news. I remember being horrified and frightened. I remember calling my sister in Colorado and crying together on the phone as we watched the news and wondered exactly what was happening. The United States of America was under attack. Unthinkable! Yet there it was, right in front of us on the television.
I remember how eerie it was to have a clear blue sky yet no planes flying overhead. I remember my children coming home early from school, and the seminary I attended canceling classes – almost unheard of.
As I think about that day and the intervening ten years, it occurs to me that in many ways, not much has changed. Life does indeed go on. People have gotten married and had children. Others have lived out their years to a good old age and have died. Young people who were in elementary school have grown up, graduated from high school, and gone to college. Many have jobs and children of their own by now. We continue to get up every morning, go to school or work, cook dinner, and sleep at night.
And yet in other ways much has changed. Air travel has become a chore of sorts, enduring long screening lines and full body scans. Folks who look as though they are from the Middle East endure suspicion, rude remarks, and worse. Muslims are regularly assumed to be terrorists. Troops were sent overseas in a so-called war on terrorism, a war that has impacted thousands more lives than the attacks on New York and Washington D.C.
Violence and revenge run deep in the human race. The earliest chapters of Genesis already record violent acts, even brother against brother. By the time we arrive at Genesis 6 the Bible tells us humans are doing only evil all the time. Violence seems to be part of who we are post-fall.
We are not left there, however. In Christ and through the power of his Spirit, we are able to overcome these tendencies. We are capable of doing the impossible. We are empowered to rise above returning evil for evil. We are enabled to overcome evil by doing good, even to our enemies.
I have no idea what that might look like on a national level. Frankly, I am frequently not all that good at it on a personal level. But in the wake of 9/11, it is worth pausing for just a few minutes to consider what it might mean to be an agent of peace, even if only in my own small sphere of influence.