(Updated for the 20th Anniversary of this hideous jihad attack on American soil, this is one of several reflections on September 11, 2001 that I will be posting in the next 3 days. We pray, we thank God for the valiant firefighters, police, and other first responders and for those who answered the call to serve our country in battle because of 9/11. We ask God for mercy and that His will be done on earth, in every nation, in America, and that the revival of His Kingdom come quickly.)
Almost everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. I am no exception. In fact, every time I walk into the Rayburn House Office Building, the place where I was when I found out that the world had changed forever, I think of that sunny morning 20 years ago.
Contrary to the advice of one mission speaker I heard some years ago, I do not intend to “get over” September 11. I believe that I owe it to the victims of the jihadist attack that day — aboard American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 77, and United Airlines Flight 93; the victims at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; and, of course, the firefighters, police, and other first responders. I do not intend to “get over” September 11 because it was the day that everything changed.
In June of 2015 I visited the World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial Plaza for the first time. The twin reflecting pools are the focal point of the 8 acre Memorial Plaza. The pools, that are each nearly an acre in size and feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America, sit within the footprints where the Twin Towers once stood.
Each pool has a massive pumping system that blasts 26,000 gallons a minute over the 30-foot deep black granite walls, according to an article in the New York Post. The Post also says that 16 pumps circulate 480,000 gallons of recycled water in each pool.
The 911 Memorial website notes that the names of every person who died in the 2001 and 1993 (which many people forget even happened) attacks are inscribed into bronze panels edging the Memorial pools. This is “a powerful reminder of the largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil and the greatest single loss of rescue personnel in American history” it declares.
And it is powerful. Extremely powerful. I moved around each pool, stopping at every single panel and reading each name. When I read a name that I recognized — such as Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Charles Burlingame, or Barbara Olson — it was like a kick in the gut.
I found Angie Houtz — a young friend from my church, Church of the Apostles, Anglican. She was killed in the attack on the Pentagon. I was sad, but also proud of the godly civilian senior analyst for the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence who was doing a great work both at the Pentagon and in ministry to the homeless in Washington, DC.
When I stopped to think that each of these names, thousands of names, perhaps dozens listed with “and unborn child” — represented a real person with a life, a family, a story — it was overwhelming.
I am sure I annoyed many people — people who were annoying me with their cavalier attitude towards the Memorial. I could not fathom taking smiling “selfies” while standing in front of the names of the victims of jihad. I glared at people who had thoughtlessly placed their Starbucks cup or entire backpack on top of the names of the dead. And I engaged a couple of little girls who were practically laying on top of a panel of names, whose parents didn’t seem to know any better, and demanded of them, “Do you know that these are names of dead people? People who were killed by bad people?” I was really awful, but it made me feel better to believe that possibly I had given them something to think about.
September 11 is not meant to be “got over.” To learn from, to open our eyes, to form new alliances, and to understand more fully our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world for whom 9/11 is a regular occurrence. . . these are the fruit of September 11 for me.
Lord, have mercy on us now, in a time when the lessons seem to be forgotten, when so many eyes are blind, when the alliances we are forming are demonic, and when our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ are not only abandoned but sometimes given over as unimportant collateral. Let the Church rise, bold, strong, and courageous for such a time as this.