This is a prayerful request for all who are leading or participating in a Remembrance Service this coming Sunday, on 9/11. Please, by God's grace, do not pretend that it's about "us." So often it seems that we in America become fairly egocentric, imagining that we are the center of the universe. Instead, realize that the pain on that day is very personal -- the widows and widowers and orphans and father-less and mother-less children's permanently altered lives remember that day in a very different way than those who wrap the flag around themselves and call it "Patriot's Day."
My husband's best man was in charge of vertical transportation (elevators and escalators) at the World Trade Center. He died helping save people, getting them home to their loved ones. Francis never returned home to his wife who adored him -- or his five children (then ages nine and under) who climbed on him as their own jungle gym. At his memorial service his sister's husband eagerly expressed his desire to help complete unfinished home improvement work. Two months later he died of a heart attack -- of a broken heart, leaving a young daughter.
These children and their mothers' lives are forever changed. His son will be a different man than he would have grown up to be because his father isn't there to guide him. His daughters are full of life and love and laughter because he had the good sense to marry an uncommon and wonderfully strong woman. But their lives are changed.
But so are so many others' lives changed. Francis' mother laughs -- but she will never smile the same. My husband has been changed forever -- he spoke of Francis frequently before and a decade later, I will still hear new "Francis stories." But David's love is now informed in a radical way that life is not fair and it can be changed in a moment and in that, he has become more fragile.
A few weeks after Francis was killed Theresa noted that she heard of threats of saber-rattling. She said, "Please -- no more widows, no more orphans." And yet, as I write this, 6,026 military have died. And a total of 900,000-plus people (civilians, other military, journalists, etc.) have died in the past decade. These lives, too, must be mourned.
In the past few days friends have suggested that this day must be remembered in silence and more than a few have decided to not watch the news. That is one way to address this day. But perhaps a more faithful way to spend time this day is to read a book to a child -- or, one of my favorite memories of Francis, carry a child on your shoulders. The next time your child tugs at you and you "don't have time" remember those who would do anything for one more hug, one more "I love you." Perhaps, on a day when we remember the evil that killed, we can choose to be more loving and forgiving -- especially in a time when our national leadership is imploding on each other.
The day the first tower was hit a news anchor observed, "They need to get the navigation fixed." But we knew that it was al Qaeda because the 1993 attack exploded near Francis' office and killed some of his friends. After the second tower was hit my husband just wanted to stay home and not go to work. I said, "That's what they want -- but we need to continue as we have." Of course, when the towers fell we all realized that we will never continue as we have. But this Sunday, for those who gather -- whether at church or community services -- I plead for us as a nation to reflect and realize that in so many ways, we have changed for the worse. We have become more suspicious and not trusting. We have battened down the hatches and too often yielded to the temptation to love ourselves -- and not care about our global neighbors.
Archbishop Tutu says, "God loves our enemies as much as God loves us." This is true -- because God is love. At the fifth anniversary of 9/11 Theresa said to the New York Times: "My husband loved life, and I want [our children] to live life and love life. You can't do that when you're consumed with hating someone." Her children and nieces and nephews reflect this love. We have a tremendous nation with a powerful future -- if we choose. May this next decade be marked by more love than hate, more forgiveness than grudges, more truth than lies, and more hope than despair. We, like Theresa, get to choose how to respond.