Sixteen years ago today, our world was forever changed by an attack from the air that stole the lives of thousands of Americans. They had done nothing to provoke or deserve such a vicious assault. With few exceptions, they were not even armed. Those who did carry weapons only did so for local security. They were clerks, technicians, and managers; salesmen and accountants; computer techs and janitors. And yes, they were firefighters and police, who had rushed into a crumbling inferno for the desperate chance of saving what innocent lives they could.
As I read the variety of tributes, tender and profound, that were posted to social media today, I found myself strangely untouched, uncomfortably too comfortable, if I may ashamedly admit that. My mind was aware of the gravity of the day. My sense of value appreciated the depth of both beauty and evil that was put on display as we watched the events of that cataclysmic September in 2001. Yet my heart felt a disconnect, a distancing from the emotions that are normally present when I reflect on this time. To some degree I felt perplexed. Yet to a deeper degree I felt guilty, even embarrassed about my shallow response. This was a historic moment of exceeding proportions, but my tepid state was barely a blip on my emotional radar.
My humble confession is, instead, that I found my eyes filling up over the death on September 3rd of some guy named Walter Becker, one of the founding members of the band Steely Dan, whose music I used to bask in, soak in, drink in, as a youth many decades ago. It’s not that I knew Mr. Becker, or that I even knew much about him. It wasn’t that his death was in any way extraordinary, or unique, or even had an impact on my own state of affairs. My daily routine would not be affected in any manner by his passing.
But it was the fact that some of my closest friends, who used to share that music with me, who used to dream future dreams, and hope distant hopes under the serenade of those tunes had also passed away, far too early, and far too many years ago. It was a reminder that in spite of all that we thought we would enjoy together, life for them had ended long before it should. And as I wept over Walter, I wept in truth over Wilton, and Jay, and Sylvia, and too many other friends or family who never got to see 40, or 50, or 60 years of age.
And that’s when it crystallized for me. That the lives lost on 9-11, quantified in statistics, honored and remembered on a broad, national platform, were and are grieved as individuals. Individuals with names, with dreams, with families. They were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, actively engaged in making a living by serving others with their time and their talents. And the people they use to dream with, and hope with, and plan with, never got to share those dreams, and hopes, and plans with them in the day they were finally fulfilled. At the table of celebration would be an empty chair. And their absence would be carried daily, the sound of their words hushed daily. The touch of their fingers, the glint of their eyes, and the joy of their laughter, missed daily.
And that, I believe, is the deeper tragedy of the 9-11 attacks. That the lives lost on that fateful day were judged by a few to be mere collateral for political ends. That the breath-taking mystery which every life embodies is anything less than the priceless miracle God intended it to be. That a breathing, caring, human soul can be simply and selfishly dismissed to make a point.
And now that my own soul has been properly shaken, and my perspective properly adjusted, my heartfelt prayer is that I will gain a greater awe of the handiwork of God that is the person standing in front of me, behind me, or beside me. May my words and actions reflect that true perspective, in honor of the God in whose image those lives were created.