On Sunday, I read and watched the memorials about 9/11, and my wife and I talked about them throughout the day. We talked about it because we were both in Washington, DC that day. She was teaching high school. I was sitting in my apartment when the plane that hit the Pentagon shook my building as it passed. My wife and I also talked about 9/11 because we got engaged three days later.
I had planned a trip for the two of us to Chicago, her beloved city where most of her friends lived. My plan was to propose Friday morning and then fly to Chicago Friday afternoon where we would be with her friends and her parents for the weekend.
When I realized what was going on on 9/11, my excitement and joy about the engagement were replaced by shock and fear, just as the blue skies filled with the dark smoke from the Pentagon.
That day seemed to confirm my life long pessimism. Being of Generation X, I grew up knowing that the world would end any minute in a nuclear holocaust. Any goal I strove for would burn up like the space shuttle Challenger. I had a habit of cynicism, assuming that no one could be trusted, born from hours of watching advertisers lie to me on television. I knew that no amount of work would lead me to a life as well off as my parents. The belief that all things were vanity, to quote Qoheleth, was like a current behind all of my thoughts and actions.
The destruction of the Pentagon just a mile from my apartment felt like the ultimate affirmation that life is pointless and often cruel. The attacks exposed the inadequacies of humanity to cover the emptiness of existence. The magnitude of it all overwhelmed me, making who I was and what I did feel small and meaningless.
By Friday, airports were opened. I proposed, and my fiancé and I travelled to Chicago. We experienced the new security measures and felt the uncertainty of being in the air. We celebrated but felt uncomfortable doing so. We met her parents at a restaurant, ate and talked about the Pentagon and the Twin Towers. I was struggling to hold on to the belief that this was important in the big scheme of the things.
I have now been married for over nine years on this anniversary of 9/11. I have three kids, 8, 5, and 3. In the midst of the 9/11 memorials, my wife and I went to Church and fed our kids. While my wife was working, orientating volunteers at an assisted living facility, I played “pirates” with the two boys and watched as my daughter designed dresses for the store she plans to have when she grows up. (She says she will give her dresses away to the poor.)
I am currently teaching around 100 students and directing five senior theology theses. I periodically hear back from our alumni, several in youth ministry, a few in high school teaching, one or two finishing graduate school, and another one starting graduate school. I ran into a former student and babysitter of mine. She and her husband are expecting a baby in February.
I have been trying to write this blog entry for about two weeks, hoping to say something worthy of the events of 9/11. At every moment though, I found myself responding to students, meeting the needs of my children, watching them play, and talking with my wife.
It is now the late in the day on the 12th. I realize I have nothing “big” to say. All I have are these daily “interruptions”. I find in them, though, the reminder of my call to love others and discover through them the love that God shows me. They seem infinitely small in comparison to 9/11, but, ten years later, these are the only acts that make sense to me and stave off the fear and despair wrought from the attacks. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
I find Paul’s faith that love is ultimately stronger than death not so much a proposition to consent to but rather a belief I discover daily, in small acts of love, especially during this anniversary.