Almost everyone I know has posted something about remembering the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Of course, that day is on my mind, too. I was at home in New Orleans, a newlywed of two months. My mom called me and told me to turn on the news; a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers. I watched nearly all day as coverage turned to analysis to speculation to more and more terrifying details. My husband was a few weeks into medical school, and I wasn’t able to get in touch with him until he came home in the evening. I knew there was nothing either one of us could do but pray and hope, but I remember longing for the reassurance of his presence.
When he finally did come home, we talked and prayed a lot. We huddled close as we went to sleep, and I recall wondering if our nation would be one at war on our own turf in my lifetime, perhaps sooner than later. Nothing seemed normal, the things that seemed important just the day before paled in comparison to our nation’s suffering. All of our family and friends up north were miraculously safe, but we knew the scope of what had happened. Even from over a thousand miles away, we held our breath with the rest of the country as we all wondered what would happen next.
I’ve written about this verse before, and it came to my mind again as I considered those events 11 years ago: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Book of Psalms, 90:12, NIV). We don’t know what today holds. We think we do, we make plans, we assume, we carry on, and in reality, that’s what we need to do. However, also in reality, we don’t know if any of those things will happen the way we expect. We are part of a bigger picture and plan than our own, and without the right perspective, we can find ourselves staring down some very scary unknowns with nothing to support us. I’ve had some surprises come my way as an adult, and not just the kind where a bunch of friends or family pop up in a dark room and shout “happy birthday”. Emotions are very fickle. When things go wrong, it is natural to feel angry, frustrated, sad, confused, or even helpless. Our perspective, though, can overcome feelings. Upon what am I basing my life? Upon whom do I rest when everything around me is crumbling? To what or whom do I turn when nothing seems right? Do I view my life as being entirely “mine” to live as I please, or is it all much bigger than just me? I don’t know if I have seconds or decades to live, nor do any of us. I’m not trying to make this a “carpe diem” pep rally, but when we stop and think about events like those on 9/11/01, I can’t help but get a reminder that none of us knows what each day will bring. Wisdom and perspective come from a certain humility of spirit, one that admits we don’t know all the answers and details of the future.
Something else that comes to mind is the way the nation came together in the face of such a large tragedy. Nearly every dividing factor ceased to matter as we clung to each other with a new fervor, as a country. In light of the upcoming election, I would love to see our candidates and citizens remember some of this solidarity of purpose and thought: we are all Americans. When I think of the oppression, conflict, poverty, and hopelessness that many face in other countries, my distaste for political divisiveness grows. America was founded on and supposedly stands for so many good things. I realize politics are far more complicated than what my simple mind chooses to tackle, but on the other hand, I think of how much this nation could accomplish for its people as a whole if we were more constantly mindful of what it means to be part of this country, together!
I grieve for those who lost loved ones that day. I pray for those who still feel the pain, fear, and anxiety as if it all happened yesterday. But, I also pray for all of us to take a good, long look at our lives: is there a humility covering our plans, is there joy in each day we get, is there gratitude for what we have, is there love and generosity for those around us? Is there a love for our country, a mature respect for all leaders as they try to do what’s best for our nation? As someone trying to live my life in response to God’s love for me, I ask of God, “what do you want me to do today?”. Blessings to all as we carry on!