Sunday, September 11, 2011

Thinking About 9/11

On October 16, 2001, a month and five days after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93, my wife, Alice, and I left on our “honeymoon trip” which formed a great loop from Wisconsin through Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and back to Wisconsin. The trip had been delayed for forty-four years due to lack of funding at the time of our marriage in 1957. In succeeding years a continuing lack of funds and the demands of rearing a family and maintaining careers prevented us from making the trip. Finally, five years into our retirement we headed out to fulfill a long-delayed dream.

Only three “sets” of relatives (and one “set” of friends) dotted the route so, except for brief overnight stops in Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, and California to visit with them, most of the trip was truly honeymoon. And most of the attraction was the land itself. Going west from Wisconsin it is the land one mostly sees; a wonderful and vast expanse of never ending, yet ever changing vistas of plains and prairies, mountains and valleys, deserts and lush irrigated farmland. Cities are far apart and squat low and wide on the terrain. Not until one reaches the west coast do cities begin to rise up again and even then one can drive for miles surrounded by expanses of “unused” land, or snake along a coastline for hundreds of miles with hardly any opportunities to turn back inland, or drive for hours in redwood forests.

The images of 9/11 that we had seen a month earlier were still fresh in our minds and it had not yet become clear just how much damage the terrorist attacks had cause our nation. The stock market had reacted negatively, some business concerns had been totally wiped out by the attack on the Trade Center towers, others had been severely crippled. The nation’s focus was on the smoking ruins at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the World Trade Center in New York City. The blow was struck at the financial heart of America and many of us wondered how it could recover.

It was a good time to head west, to spend days away from Television reports, and to assay the vastness of our land. But billboards reminded us of the events of 9/11, displaying the flag and patriotic messages. Every gift shop in every tiny town offered us the chance to buy trinkets with the promise that 5% or 10% of the profits would go to aid the victims of 9/11. Partly it was offensive (is there no tragedy that the entrepreneurial spirit of America cannot profit by?) but also reassuring. It would be years – perhaps generations – before New Yorkers could cease to feel vulnerable. Our leaders would soon be launching wars to punish tens of thousands of people who had nothing to do with the attacks – wars that we still don’t know how to wind down. But, west of the Mississippi, life went on pretty much as it had for a hundred years, with an awareness of those easterners and their vulnerable overcrowded cities, but calm in the knowledge that there was little likelihood that terrorists would attempt to blow up the Grand Canyon.

Looking back, ten years later, it is possible to see that, horrific as those attacks were, they did not break the spirit, even of New Yorkers. And they didn’t come close to bringing the nation to its knees. The vastness of our land and the diversity of its resources presented those who would destroy it with daunting obstacles.

We’re feeling more confident again. We’ll celebrate our resilience today, and vow that we’ll never allow it to happen again. We’ll be brave . . . until we hear, as we did last Friday, that there is “credible” evidence that three terrorists might be planning attacks to “celebrate” the anniversary of 9/11 in their own way. Then we beef up our defenses and line the streets of our cities with security forces. As though any number of police or soldiers could deter a well-planned attack if those attacking are prepared to die to accomplish their aims.

It becomes clearer that no place is safe from terror. Not Phoenix, not Ft. Hood, not Washington, D.C., not New York City. Not even Grand Canyon if that should be the chosen target. We have built up our defenses in the hope that we will “feel safer” than we did ten years ago. But, for many Americans there is still a fear, as one woman put it, each time one boards and airliner, or rides the subway, or takes the elevator to the top of a tall building, or finds himself, or herself, in a crowd of people at a government facility.

There is no defense against attack. There is only defense against fear. Many of those who survived the 9/11 attacks attest to their faith in God as the sustaining power as they awaited rescue. And that is still the only source of strength available to those who live in fear of the unknown future. Jesus told his followers they should not fear those who can kill the body, but only He who can kill the body and the soul. America, on the 10th anniversary of its day of fear needs to put its trust in God, who preserves, forever, those who trust him.

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