September 11. For some it is an historic event that took place before they were born or were too young to remember. For others it is a blip on the radar screen, if it is on the radar screen at all. For still others it is a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories that pull their attention away from the most important thing – the lives taken, the valor of heroes, and the reality that on one day in September everything we knew changed forever. For at least one individual it was trivialized as “some people” who “did something.” And a couple years later others obscenely declared January 6, 2021 and September 11, 2001 equal terror attacks.
Just because life continues to change in ways that we cannot fathom, and new forms of evil raise their ugly heads on a regular basis does not mean that we should not mark 9/11. I intend to do so for as long as I live.
One Christian ministry to the Muslim world (the kind that doesn’t use the word “Christian,” but prefers “Jesus follower”) scolded those of us at a missions conference back in 2013 that we needed to “get over” 9/11. No. Leave those that committed such an evil act to God’s justice and ask Him for the grace to forgive. Yes. But if “getting over” 9/11 means not remembering that day, honoring the heroes, and mourning for the dead. No!
I have written in past tributes to 9/11 about my church friend Angie Houtz, who was 28 years old when she was killed in the attack on the Pentagon. I have also written about my personal experience on September 11, 2001, arriving at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC just in time to see the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. As we raced to get out of the building, we did not yet know that we possibly owed our lives to the brave men and women on United Airlines Flight 93, who crashed the plane into a Pennsylvania field when it was headed towards Washington.
I am linking to those articles here again as it is my annual September 11 liturgical practice. But I want to spend the rest of this article focusing on a response to September 11 that is full of goodness, honor, and healing. In particular, that is the response of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation (T2T).
This past January when I went to visit my family in Florida, I completed the next stop in my personal September 11 pilgrimage; I went to see the Let Us Do Good Village created by the Tunnel to Towers Foundation. The village, which broke ground on December 11, 2021, will be a property comprising over 100 homes in Land O’ Lakes, Florida. These homes will be mortgage free new builds that will house a community of wounded veterans, Fallen First Responder families, and Gold Star families. The groundbreaking ceremony was live streamed on T2T’s official Facebook page.
My sister and brother-in-law and I drove around Land O’ Lakes a bit that day in January until we found Let Us Do Good Village. We knew we were there when we saw that even the street signs honor our heroes! One intersection was in the photo above: “Bravest Blvd. and Do Good Way.” We saw the very first home that had been completed, for the Gold Star family of US Army SPC Robert Thornton, Jr. This is just one of wonderful ways in which T2T has blessed and honored veterans, active military, first responders, 9/11 survivors and families of those who died saving lives on 9/11, and Gold Star families (families of members of the military who died).
Another way in which Tunnel to Towers has been an advocate for the heroic community of 9/11 has been to be a voice for and support the thousands of first responders. These are those who survived on September 11 only to fall years later, a direct result of illnesses contracted that day, such as inhaling toxic dust when the Twin Towers collapsed. Tunnel to Towers also supports military members catastrophically wounded in the Global War on Terrorism and their families in a Smart Home Program.
Many of those who are behind the creation of Tunnel to Towers are family members and compatriots of heroes that died saving lives on September 11. The T2T founders could have fallen into bitterness or passivity in their grief. They could have thought of themselves alone and believed that they could only survive the trauma by “getting over” 9/11. But instead they turned their pain and grief into healing for others. The story behind the name “Tunnel to Towers” is the story of Chairman and CEO Frank Siller’s baby brother, New York City Fire Department (FDNY) Firefighter Stephen Gerard Siller who was 34 years old when he died, saving lives at the World Trade Center.
Siller had just finished his shift with Brooklyn Squad 1 when he heard about a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He turned around and headed back towards the city. The Foundation explains that when Siller reached the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel it was already closed for security purposes. He left his truck, strapped on 60 lbs. of gear and raced on foot through the tunnel to the tower, where he laid down his life saving others. The T2T website declares:
Stephen had everything to live for; a great wife, five wonderful children, a devoted extended family, and friends. Stephen’s parents were lay Franciscans and he grew up under the guiding philosophy of St. Francis of Assisi, whose encouraging and inspirational phrase “while we have time, let us do good” were words that Stephen lived by. Stephen’s life and heroic death serve as a reminder to us all to live life to the fullest and to spend our time here on earth doing good – this is his legacy.
Author and family friend Jay Price wrote: “Every momentous event, even a tragedy, has its symbolic figures. September 11th was no different; it just had a few more of them. Rudy Giuliani, Father Mychal Judge, the four guys on United Flight 93 … a hundred more … a thousand. None bigger than Stephen Siller, whose stature only grows with time as New Yorkers and people from around the world follow his footsteps.”Tunnel to Towers Foundation: Stephen’s Story
Today the nations are being flooded with all kinds of evil and brutality, evil agendas, evil plots, the control of evil people. It would be quite easy to give in to despair and be overcome by evil.
Romans 12: 21 says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” The Greek word for overcome, nikao, means “to subdue, conquer, prevail.” Do not allow evil to subdue or conquer you, or to prevail against you. Instead subdue, conquer, and prevail against evil with good.
Stephen Siller. . . and thousands more. . . did that. Overcame evil — even the evil of their own deaths — with good. And so also in those who were inspired and challenged by their heroism and sacrifice to create places of healing and support, evil is overcome with good.
You can help Tunnel to Towers overcome evil with good with a donation to support any of their wonderful programs. Tunnel to Towers Foundation (t2t.org)