Thursday, September 8, 2011

Reflections of 9/11: understanding it all by and by

By John David Powell

It is that time, the day we knew was coming, the date we did not need to
mark on our calendars.

What happened on that terrible Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, was a tragedy that
profoundly affected us all. We stood motionless as we witnessed the
unthinkable become reality. We gasped as we saw twin towers crumble, and we
cried as we watched grown men weep. And then we gathered together, as
communities and as a nation, to seek a collective consolation from those
around us - our families, our friends, our colleagues.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote that "Death is always, and under all circumstances,
a tragedy, for if it is not, then it means that life itself has become one."
The great calamity that struck our nation was much more than death. It was a
vicious act that struck at the heart of America and touched the souls of
each of her citizens.

The following Friday night, my younger daughter and I lit candles and stood
on the sidewalk in front of our safe, suburban house. We joined a handful of
neighbors and became links in a remarkable chain of candle bearers that
stretched from sea to somber sea.

I first learned of the attacks while talking on the telephone with my wife,
who was in Reno on business. Suddenly, she gasped: "Oh, my god. A building
is on fire in New York."

She soon became one of the thousands of people stranded in hotels when the
government grounded all flights. Wednesday morning found her driving to Salt
Lake City in a rented car across Nevada's high-desert highway. She did not
look forward to what she knew would be an ordeal at the airport Saturday
morning. She arrived five hours before her scheduled departure.

It took 15 minutes for security to hand-search her checked luggage. Other
personnel rummaged through her carry-on looking for knives, corkscrews, and
letter openers. As she walked to her gate, she passed a gift shop selling
souvenir knives, corkscrews, and letter openers. The nation's airports have
a few kinks to work out if they're going to get this security thing to
succeed, she said.

Ten years later, sadly, we still have not worked out this security thing.
And much of the blame rests on those of us who want total security and total
convenience, also known as freedom. One cannot be secure without
inconvenience, without giving up some freedoms. Making sure all the doors
and windows are locked at night is both confining and inconvenient, but it
also is prudent. Ten years later, we still grapple to determine what
freedoms you and I are willing to trade for security.

It is curious now to look back a decade and see how we set aside the petty
parts of politics, how we gave proper perspective to the shallow world of
celebrities, how we embraced the concept of respect even if for an
all-too-short time. The sad irony here is that on the eve of our national
remembrance comes word of a video game that promotes the murder of tea party
zombies and conservative journalists. Res ipsa loquitur.

It was also interesting to note that we set aside ravaging religious debates
while the nation sought solace and guidance. Children and their teachers
prayed in school. The National Cathedral was the site of our national day of
mourning. President Bush invoked the name of God at every appearance. Until
9/11, we had wrapped God in the flag, put them both in a drawer, and allowed
certain factions to lock them up and throw away the key. And then came those
too-few days following that terrible Tuesday when we broke the lock,
displayed the flag, and prayed to God for forgiveness and strength.

Some of us searched the old books for scriptures that would provide us light
and hope as we stumbled through darkness and fear. "He will swallow up death
in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces," the
prophet Isaiah assured us from across the millennia.

Like little children, we asked why. Then our children turn to us and asked
the same question. Why? Ten years later, we still have no answer.

Back then, as I searched for the answer, I remembered an old gospel song
that helped me look beyond the question:

When death has found and taken our loved ones,
Leaving our home so lonely and drear,
Then do we wonder why others prosper,
Living so wicked year after year.
Farther along we'll know more about it.
Farther along we'll understand why.
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine.
We'll understand it all by and by.

John David Powell writes his Lone Star Award-winning columns from ShadeyHill
Ranch in Texas.