9/11 and You

Written by Rusty Wright

wtctributeMy sister had a 9:00 a.m. appointment at the World Trade Center.

On September 12.

Since September 11, 2001, I’ve often wondered what might have happened had her appointment been a day earlier or the terrorist attacks a day later. I could have been walking the streets of New York City with her picture.

What were your feelings that tragic day? Shock? Fear? Anger? Confusion? Sadness? How do you process those feelings now, as reminders of the attacks come in anniversary commemorations and media coverage? Nearly two-thirds of American Red Cross 9/11 adult counselees still grieve, according to a study of those directly affected by the attacks{1}.

“I Hate You!”

In the immediate aftermath, my feelings of sadness blended with intense hostility. Once when Osama Bin Laden’s face appeared on television, I spontaneously shouted, “I hate you!”

I was and am a follower of Jesus. He taught his followers to “love your enemies.”{2} Why was I yelling “I hate you!” to a picture on a TV screen?

I wondered why this guy hated my sister. If Deborah Wright had been among the victims, her death would have been included among those he applauded. If I had been a victim, he would have applauded mine. I wrote a radio series on “Why Radical Muslims Hate You” to discover historical, socio-cultural, political, religious, and psychological roots of such anger. It helped me to connect with Muslims who shared similar concerns but disavowed the radical methods.

Dust of Death

Deborah’s experience as a corporate chaplain took her back to New York to help WTC-based companies and their employees who suffered loss on 9/11 cope with the emotional and spiritual whirlwinds their worlds had become. Many suffered from survivor guilt. Failure to process grief could lead to serious consequences. Some firemen, for instance, were assigned to look after widows of fallen comrades. “There can be enormous intimacy and bonding in shared grief,” Deborah notes. “Some of the firemen and widows ended up in bed together.”

Some competitive, driven businesspersons re-examined their rat race—making big bucks and accumulating the most toys—and asked, “Is that all there is?”. Long looks at corporate culture prompted many to consider spiritual realities.

Part of helping survivors process their experiences involved taking them to Ground Zero. Deborah comments, “As I stood at Ground Zero and picked up the dust, I could not help but think that we were standing in a giant crematorium. The ground seemed hallowed to me.”

Personal Lessons from 9/11

What personal 9/11 lessons persist? Perhaps you can relate to these that seem poignant to me:

We live in a contingent universe. Human decisions and actions have consequences, often for good or evil.

Life is temporary. One early spiritual leader wrote of our lives’ fleeting nature, “You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”{3}

Link with the eternal. Jesus of Nazareth, whom people of diverse spiritual persuasions respect as a great teacher, told a friend grieving her brother’s death, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish.”{4}

Cherish your friends. In the aftermath of 9/11, many friendships were deepened as people linked with each other for encouragement, solace and support.

Understand and love your enemies and intellectual adversaries. Support national defense, but learning about state enemies can help communication with moderates who share some of their convictions. Getting to know neighbors or associates with whom you differ politically, philosophically or spiritually can help build bridges that foster civility in public discourse.

Related reading: Lorraine tells the story of her son, a NYPD officer at Ground Zero on 9/11, and how she began her own search for meaning. Hear Lorraine ‘s story.

Notes
1. Amy Westfeldt, “Study: Sept. 11 Survivors Still Grieving,” Associated Press, May 26, 2006, on AOL News. Also see full Red Cross report, http://www.redcross.org/images/pdfs/SRPClientSurvey.pdf, p. v.
2. Matthew 5:44 NASB.
3. James 4:14 NASB.
4. John 11:25 NLT.

© 2006 Rusty Wright, used by permission.

Image credit: Joseph Hoetzl, used with permission, Creative Commons 2.0 License.

3 Responses to “9/11 and You”

  • edna says:

    i was in 911, i worked one block from it i know the actual feeling as i lived it…

  • Claire Colvin Claire Colvin says:

    All these years later, it’s the image of people leaping from the building holding hands that stays with me. That, and the knowledge that there are several public schools with a sight-line on the WTC site. What did those children see that day?

  • Kara says:

    It’s amazing how the years have gone by and how the memory of that terrible morning is still so clear. Remembering those whose lives were forever changed that day.

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