The following reflection is an adaption of one that I composed five years ago on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. I have kept much of what I said five years ago, adjusting some phrases here, adding some thoughts there. For the most part, however, I have mostly the same thoughts. It isn’t typical of my reflections, but I feel that readers here will get a lot out of it.
Fourteen years ago. Fourteen long years ago, an entire lifetime away. Literally a lifetime. I teach freshmen in high school, some of whom were not alive fourteen years ago. I think, often enough, that 2001 was only a short time ago. Then I think of today’s date, and what happened fourteen years ago, and realize that it was an eternity.
Fourteen years ago.
I was a sophomore in high school, Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, VA, where I currently teach (cool, right?). Arlington is just outside of Washington DC, and a lot of the students in my school lived close to the city. I lived in Maryland and would ride a bus every day, cutting through the city to get to school.
I remember where I was when I first heard the news. I was sitting in Theology class. I don’t remember much from that Theology class, but I do remember that it was during second period. During second period, a voice came over the loud speaker and said, in a very serious voice, that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York. That was all they told us.
Oh, I thought, that’s sad for that pilot. At that point, I thought a personal plane had crashed into the building. Why are they announcing it? Maybe it was a relative of a student. We said a prayer. I moved on. I wished I had paid more attention, so that I could remember better what happened that day. Even though it was only been a short time ago, everything about that day is a blur. The events that day from second period to the end of school are mixed up and unclear.
Warren H. Carroll said that historians are “the guardians of memory.” I fancy myself a historian, but when it comes to my own life, I’m a failed one.
All that said, I will try to remember.
By third period, we had confirmation that it was an airliner, not some personal plane, that had crashed, and that there were two reported crashes. By fourth period, we were watching the news in class, catching a glimpse of endless smoke pouring out of the buildings. I had never heard of the World Trade Center before that day, and now it was everything. My little world now seemed to revolve around it. Every so often, a child was called to go home. One by one, the classes dwindled. Schoolwork? Some of the teachers thought about it, but gave in, and turned on the TVs. We were slaves to the news reports. We soon heard about the attack on the Pentagon. That added a new level of disturbance because we were about eight miles away, not hundreds of miles away in another state. We sat in class and watched the screen. Down the first tower fell. Down it went, as if it were nothing more than a stack of cards. It fell so quick, so effortlessly.
Through all of this, I had only a vague understanding of what was happening. I couldn’t shake Pearl Harbor out of my mind. I knew now how my grandparents had felt, hearing the reports of that attack. I knew what it was like to witness an America tragedy, to experience the unsure horror of it all.
I remained at school the entire day, then traveled home on the school bus, weaving our way through the chaotic traffic. When I finally got home, I hugged my mom and little sister (it was, after all, her birthday). We left the news on the rest of the day. By evening we saw the bombs dropping, we heard President George W. Bush address the nation, and we hoped that everything would be better soon.
And here we are today. My generation has been defined by that day. The so-called “Millennium Generation includes all those who were born between the end of the 1970s and the beginning of the 1990s, old enough to witness the 9/11 attacks first hand. That is our legacy. I am defined by that day of horror. And it is true. Look at the world around us; look at popular culture, at politics, at religion, at international relations. The events of 9/11 have scared these realms. Nowhere is safe. Men have made careers based on the events which unfolded that day. I’m not referring to our soldiers, though anyone in the military since 9/11 in some way owes their career to the attacks. I am referring to more vocal men.
Look at the world of Pop Culture. In movies, we see the career of Michael Moore, director of quite possibly the most influential documentary in recent years, 2002’s Bowling for Columbine. More has revitalized his career because of the 9/11 attacks. Bowling for Columbine briefly connects the violence that day with the violence in this country’s recent history. Moore’s follow up film, Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), focuses on the attacks and the subsequent invasion of Iraq, particularly by connecting President Bush’s family and Osama bin Laden’s family. It became the highest grossing documentary ever, and has cemented Moore as the documentary filmmaker for the liberal world. He is loved by some, hated by many, but unless he completely bombs at the box office (his most recently released film, Capitalism: A Love Story (2009), grossed over $14 million domestically), he will continue his rather successful career.
Likewise, the music world has become saturated with anti-President Bush songs, as well as pro-America soldier songs (the latter mostly found on country music stations). The human struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks bled into the natural disaster which was Hurricane Katrina. Both were blamed on President Bush and his policies. One need only listen to the American Idiot album by Green Day or Minutes to Midnight by Linkin Park, to give two examples, to see such anger against the former president. Would such hatred have arisen without the attacks on the Towers?
Many books and countless news articles have appeared, all because of the attacks and the history afterwards. It has become the standard, it seems, to hold Bush’s policies following the attacks as wrong, and indeed one should not praise everything he did. But the anger, the outrage which has persisted these last fourteen years paints America as a country against herself. Having traveled to Europe, I know that, like us, Europeans get the vast majority of their view of America from popular culture. Who are Americans? We are the violent, pill popping, sex crazed monsters which infect movie and television screens. We are closer to Hell than anyone in Heaven. This is our national portrait.
But that is not us. As the true history of our country these last fourteen years shows us, in the soldiers who have fought and died in the Middle East, in the men who have seriously taken charge when the road became rough, in those who remained faithful despite having seen their faith despised, we are not those monsters who inhabit our movies and TVs. We are better than that. We are the country that stood against our attackers and fought back. We are the country that said NO to another force of evil. We are the country that turned the tragedy of 9/11 into a glimmer of hope. While we may not have done it as gracefully as one could, we did it.
So it does seem appropriate, then, that such an important event, my generation’s Vietnam, would define us as a nation. We are strong, we are brave, and we are charitable. As much as men deny Christ, He informs us, making us the nation we are today.
We run the risk, as any devout Christian can see, of ruining our country. Many hold it is already ruined, and maybe they are right. I’m more optimistic. I think we can have a cultural revolution, a transformation away from the cancer of sin which plagues our country. It will not happen in a day, nor even in a year. It will not happen without prayer and fasting, without rejecting that which has become a hallmark of American in the media. We must seek to fix the broken, rather than setting the broken up as the new normal. When we are forced to profess our Faith in the shadows, we must produce more spiritual light. When we are shouted down by hatred, we must sing of Christ love that much louder. A war wages for America, but it isn’t one of bullets and soldiers, but one of hearts and minds, one of the soul rather than the body. This blog, in all humility, is my attempt to join that fight for souls.
I am of the Millennium Generation. I proclaim Christ crucified to a world shaped from the ashes of New York City and Washington D.C. I use the tools of this world, of my generation, and turn to my brothers and sisters, stretch out my hands and beg for their help. No man fights alone. To quote the Christian song “In Christ Alone,”
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
May those who died fourteen years ago today rest in peace. Amen.