On September 11, 2001, I entered day two of middle school as sixth grade commenced with terror, panic, and the shattering of innocence. Now, anniversaries pass, as do the milestones of my life every year. Each year I rediscover the immediacy of that day in my memory as a decade of life dissipates and my twelve year old self resumes recalling the narrative. The mental images clear completely and the emotions dulled, but only slightly as time will do.
For present young adults, we cannot negate the world-changing impact of 9/11 on our lives –both in how the world shaped us and, increasingly, how we shape the world. How this manifested within and how we live out in response vary widely, often in stark contradiction, but I leave it for social scientists, philosophers, and others to speak about large trends.
In this post, I discuss only how 9/11 changed me to change the world – and answer Christ’s mandate for peacemaking.
For two or three years following, I led the charge to support troops now at war with carepackages and letters. I adamantly ensured Bush successfully got a second term, as much as I could at thirteen. I supported invading Iraq and defending the horrors associated with the War on Terror. Vengeance and anger were my responses and militarism, with all the evils entailed in it, my chosen means. As I estimated, America gloriously crusaded to bring ‘justice’ to terrorists all over.
Alternatively, Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, writes of war differently:
“War is a depredation of the human spirit that is sold as the loftiest of livelihoods. To hide the rape and pillage, the degradation and disaster, the training of human beings to become animals in ways we would allow no animals to be, we have concocted a language of mystification. We count casualties now in terms of ‘collateral damage,’… We take smooth-faced young men out of their mother’s kitchens to teach them how to march blindly into death, how to destroy what they do not know, how to hate what they have not seen.”
With gratitude, I acknowledge how the radical Spirit of God, lover and loved, moved through me and changed me, piecemeal and over years, to the path of peacemaking. These realities of how fallacious the government’s lies on war are, how mystified and beautified it is, and what war really is and does gracefully shattered my middle school mind.
I saw with new eyes the response our nation has chosen, even a decade later, to 9/11:Afghanistan and Iraq with the trillions spent and millions killed, torture and GITMO, drone strikes and illegalities abounding, celebrating another human being’s death, curtailing civil liberties domestically and harassing our Muslim brothers and sisters, failing veterans when they return, and failing military families, and I could go on.
Certainly, my path of peace is short even today and I merely shadow the giants who impress footsteps for the Spirit to guide my feet into – but how blessed I feel to be on a similar footpath!
Eleven years later, that boy of twelve is now in his twenties as 9/11’s anniversary repeats and further along life’s journey. Initial responses of reactionary emotion and violence-based retaliations, so prominent in the American mindset even today, evolved into active love and nonviolence-based solutions united with Christ. The call to love sacrificially, to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute, to love above all else destroys daily the walls around my mind and my being that cling to violence as the answer, that cling to fear of the other, that cling to putting myself first.
From the physical ashes and fires of that day, the inner destruction for those coming of age demanded a response from us as to how we viewed the world and lived in it. Momentarily, I blinked and chose war – but today, I choose peace.
Terrorism on September 11, 2001 will forever remain in my mind, the memories of being young, unsure, and afraid retained. Those atrocious attacks must be responded to, but we never really have responded appropriately and chose instead to become mired in violence-based reactions.
How long will our nation choose the warpath to the peace path?
How long until we allow the tragedy of 9/11 to spur us to ensure no more 9/11s happen, at the hands of militaries or criminal groups worldwide?
How long until we admit that violence, terrorism, and bloodshed cannot be quelled by bullets and body counts, but only by the love of Christ flowing through us as we work for justice and act for peace.
I refuse to enter into a world, grow old in a world, and raise children in a world where violence is our world’s endemic response to pain and suffering, even from violence against us. Instead, as the psalmist says, I attempt to seek peace and pursue it each morning.
That is how I choose to remember 9/11 today and every day I live – because a peaceful tomorrow is possible when we start peacemaking in the present.