September 11, 2011

A World of Mourners

"I'll always remember where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated."

As I grew up, there were just a handful of occasions that would bring these words to my mother's lips.  She was a small, quiet school girl, sitting attentively in class, when the news came and the press exploded with shocking film footage and unbelievable reports on the youngest president's death.  Although her words always gave me pause, I never expected to experience in my life a memory so vivid.  But, like her and -- I expect -- like you, I do.

Third seat from the left,
Second row,
Mr. Bunch's Earth Science class, 
Perquimans County High School,
Hertford, North Carolina
United States of America

You could send a time-traveling torpedo to my precise location, I remember it so exactly (which is an ironic illustration, now that I think about it...).

After we heard the announcement over the school-wide speakers, Mr. Bunch turned on the television and we sat in disbelief, motionless and silent, with eyes glued to the monitor -- showing the kind of rigorous attention that the science teacher had probably always desired but never quite achieved for himself.  And as we watched in amazement the burning of the north tower, hit just minutes earlier by the Boeing 767, our amazement was overpowered by astonishment as we watched, live, the second plane slice through the south tower.  Unbelievable.

"Where are you lost?" depicts the victims of the 9/11 attacks

A dedicated student, I'd read, reviewed and memorized facts about war in many history classes before, and as my father was an avid CNN follower at the time, I'd even seen it, in some sense.  Yet still, the reality and personal nature of war was absent from my 15-year experience of the world.  Watching it happen in real time on the soil of my own country, land of the free, for God's sake!, I was still too dumbfounded to even cry.

I don't remember much of the rest of the school day, except the one girl who weeped in the cafeteria because her father worked at the Pentagon, and she still hadn't heard a word from him.  But I do remember that evening, standing absently in our living room, staring blankly at our own television set, wondering if this was the end of the world... wondering if Armageddon was actually going to happen in my lifetime... in my childhood... before I got a chance to fall in love, to be married, to have children of my own... wondering if this was just the beginning of the end.  I remember questioning everything I'd worked for.  Nights of tireless study and days of diligent activity, all for naught.  This was it, and I had nothing truly meaningful to show for it.

9/11 Memorial photo by Denise Gould (DOD)
Ten years later, I still don't have much to show for my small existence, and my heart and mind are still full of questions about what happened that day.  But in the time that has passed, my questions have evolved a bit.  Now I ask questions like,
What is my role in the defeat of evil?  
Why did God ever allow it to enter this world?  
What must I feel towards those who take violent action in the name of their own god, Allah?  
Am I allowed to hate him, while still loving those who trust him?  
Can I mourn this loss and its effect on my nation, while not neglecting to appreciate, understand and grieve the tragic devastation that people around the world experience at the hands of such violence every day?

I, of course, have more questions than answers.  Yet, some things have become a bit clearer in the past few days as I've remembered 9/11 once more.  As much as I hated those possessed men on the day they mercilessly killed nearly three thousand people, I realize today that they, too, were victims of evil.  They believed the lies of the Enemy, and were as much in his grasp that day as any have ever been.

I was also reminded today how timely the Holy Spirit often uses His word.  Our church community has been studying the book of Ephesians for the entire summer and, whether coincidentally or providentially, we landed in chapter 6, verses 10-18 today.  Here's J.B. Phillips' translation of that passage:

In conclusion be strong—not in yourselves but in the Lord, in the power of his boundless resource. Put on God’s complete armour so that you can successfully resist all the devil’s methods of attack. For our fight is not against any physical enemy: it is against organisations and powers that are spiritual. We are up against the unseen power that controls this dark world, and spiritual agents from the very headquarters of evil. Therefore you must wear the whole armour of God that you may be able to resist evil in its day of power, and that even when you have fought to a standstill you may still stand your ground. Take your stand then with truth as your belt, righteousness your breastplate, the Gospel of peace firmly on your feet, salvation as your helmet and in your hand the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Above all be sure you take faith as your shield, for it can quench every burning missile the enemy hurls at you. Pray at all times with every kind of spiritual prayer, keeping alert and persistent as you pray for all Christ’s men and women.

I could easily -- and I imagine many probably do -- use this passage to target Al Qaeda as the headquarters of evil, and the men who sustain it, the enemy.  But as I've said before, no human being is my enemy, for that would mean that my battle is physical.  It is not.  And Christian Americans are certainly not its only victims.  Every person is a child of God and therefore a target of Satan's burning missiles.  Even those who use their own bodies as burning missiles.  Every person is in deep need of God's mercy, in desperation of God's peace.  Even those who withhold mercy from others and make peace seem unattainable.

"Dying, He destroyed our death..."
by Lawrence OP
I still have unanswered questions and deep sorrow over what happened as I sat wide-eyed in that silent classroom ten years ago.  The deaths of so many people must be remembered and mourned on days like this.  But even as we mourn, we must also bear in mind that the death of one Person was all that was necessary to defeat the powers of darkness, and to bring mercy and peace to a world of mourners...

Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecatta mundi,
Miserere nobis.
Agnus Dei, qui tollis pecatta mundi,
Dona nobis pacem.

Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, 
Have mercy on us. 
Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, 
Grant us peace.

1 comment:

  1. This was so profound and yet so simple, it made me catch my breath. God versus evil. The battle belongs to the Lord. Carrie, you have a LOT to show for your brief existence, including this post and your faith. Thank you.