The sky was brilliant blue with no clouds hovering. The air was crisp and the sun was shining. I walked on the Boardwalk adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean and felt the fresh air melt away my stress. I returned to my car to head home to begin the day and was annoyed to find that my radio was broadcasting static and not my favorite programs. As I entered my house to dress to get to the interfaith clergy meeting I was to be hosting in the next hour, my phone was ringing and it was my assistant telling me to get to a TV to see the news. The date was September 11, 2001 and the first plane had just hit the first of the Twin Towers. By the time I got to my TV the second tower had been hit and we began to realize that this was no mere accident.
Thirty minutes later my ashen faced colleagues arrived with each of us sharing what little we had been able to learn. We prayed together and discussed what we thought we should each do. While we were meeting with the Television turned on low, we saw the Towers crumble. We agreed to meet in a few days time to assess what we felt would be necessary to do. We were all dreading what we would find out about the fate of our congregants and friends so many of whom worked in the financial district. We of course had yet to learn about the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania or about the attack on the Pentagon.
I received a call from my son who could see the towers from his high school classroom who wanted me to come get him so we could get my younger son from middle school and all be together. When we arrived at the middle school the mother of one of his classmates who worked in the office went with us to get my other son from class. She told us she had just heard from her husband that his fire department had been called in to assist, that was the last news she ever heard from him. His body was found two months later and his burial took place on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.
For days afterwards though we were twenty miles away, we could smell the fires burning, see the haze in the air and see the streams of smoke going out to sea. Our skies were silent as all air traffic in our area was stopped for five days. It was only during the midst of a community service in a local park that we heard the first plane fly over head. For the first time our neighborhood cheered as we welcomed the roaring sound of regular jets filling the air. As Rosh Hashanah approached a few days later we began the New Year saddened, shocked, dismayed yet clearly bound together. This feeling of unity sadly, did not last long.
Eleven years have passed since that day. I have heard the platitudes uttered about the meaning of that day. I have shed tears for the thousands that died that day and the thousands more young men and women who have died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq too. I wonder though, what have we really learned since then? What messages do we convey to our children, especially those who have been born since? How are we honoring those who died?
In the coming weeks as we move ever closer to another presidential election I know that we will hear speech after speech about the role America is supposed to play in the world. We will hear how this politician or that one will make certain that a tragedy like 9/11 will never happen again. I hope that no matter what side they represent, that they are right.
I mostly hope however that someday it won’t take a tragedy of this magnitude to unite people. I hope that someday soon, we might find a way build a world that is truly united in creating a dignified peaceful and secure world for all God’s people which will be filled with beautiful blue skies, crisp air and calm sea breezes.