I write this on 9/11 – the 16th anniversary of the biggest disaster to hit the US in my lifetime. It must have been what Pearl Harbor felt to my parents. ‘A date that will live in infamy.’ Sadly, we have a new ‘date of infamy’ in my generation.
That day – and for weeks to come – I was glued to the TV, as were most of us. The streets of New York were dark with the dust of the collapse of skyscrapers. Who would have ever guessed that there would be so much dust flying into the air? But then when have we seen two of the largest buildings in the world collapse to the ground?
The images that still haunt me even today were the ones of firefighters emerging from the cloud of dust. Again and again. In and out.
My future son-in-law was in New York City at the time, working at an ad agency. He had an interview scheduled at one of the larger agencies – on one of the top floors of Tower One. He stopped to buy gum to ensure that his breath did not reflect the beers he drank the night before. As he paid for the gum, the first plane struck.
He never made the interview, never got the new job. But he lived to come back home and meet my daughter. Today they are married and have two of my sweet grands.
But the dark story still haunts him personally. When we visited them in New York City (he returned a year later with my daughter at his side), he would not visit Ground Zero with us. He could not do it. The dark feelings all rushed back over him when he even thought of that day.
After the towers came down, he and hundreds of fellow New Yorkers sat on the curbs for days just outside of Ground Zero. They hosed and scraped off the firefighters’ boots that were heavily encrusted with that dark and horror-ladened dust. The boots were just too heavy for the firefighters, wearied by the heavy lifting, beyond emotional overload as they recovered bodies and fractured memories of lives.
Tears weep out of my eyes even as I think of them.
Many New Yorkers, like my son-in-law, left NYC within a couple of months of the tragedy. They couldn’t function in their city anymore, still clouded with the smells and sounds of horror.
But when my son-in-law talks of the horror (which is still rare!), he never leaves out the light.
Of the people.
Of a city drawn together.
Of firefighters who risked it all for another person.
Of the lightness of a fresh pair of clean boots.
The darkness in the hearts of the men who chose to kill rather than to live themselves can never be forgotten.
But out of that darkness shone the God-given light of humanity, the goodness that can emerge from people who are drawn together to preserve what is most precious: life.
It was like a national – a global – reset.
Without political agenda.
Without financial benefit.
Without promise of advancement or notoriety.
The darkness of evil became real, and the light still shone brightly anyway.
The light of the righteous shines brightly but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out. ~Proverbs 13:9
Yes, the lamp of the wicked was certainly lit up that day, maybe even ablaze with the fire and heat of their ill-directed emotion. But the good news that God proclaimed through Jesus was also lit up that day. And every day.
It will never be snuffed out.
The wicked will surely live in darkness, their lamp flickering bright all too often. But the righteous will forever shine.
God promised. He will deliver.
And for that, even in the deep sadness of the memory, we can rejoice on 9/11, and every day.