A Prayer for Everyone on September 11
There is a saying that every problem comes bearing its own solution. I think the heartbreak of September 11—America's grief not only over the loss of life but also the loss of our own innocence—has expanded us as people because it has tenderized our hearts. On a psychological level, the American people have matured as a result of that awful day. While the event itself was excruciatingly painful, it has made us more emotionally sober. It has reminded us not only of the vulnerability of life but of the vulnerability of our country and of how much we truly love it.
Americans are good with to-do lists; just tell us what to do and we'll do it. Throughout our history, we have proven that. Colonize. Check. Win our independence. Check. Form a union. Check. Expand to the Pacific. Check. Settle the West. Check. Keep the Union together. Check. Industrialize. Check. Fight the Nazis. Check. Land a man on the moon. Check. And the list goes on.
But all of sudden, we are confronted by a problem proving even more challenging to solve. While German and Japanese forces during World War II could be likened to malignant tumors that could be—and were—successfully surgically removed, the current terrorist phenomenon is more like a cancer that has already metastasized. Some of it is hidden behind healthy organs in the form of spider tumors one can only assault at the risk of endangering the healthy organs they are hiding behind. Invasive measures bring mixed results.
There's simply not a to-do list for annihilating all the problems we have now; they're more complicated than anything mere action alone can solve. We are called not simply to do something different now, but to be something different.
And that is where each and every one of us comes in.
Not long after the September 11 attacks, I saw a roundtable on television hosted by Dan Rather. The panel was made up of people who had lost immediate family members on that terrible day. A wife who had lost her husband in one of the towers, a man who had lost his son at the Pentagon and so forth. At the end of the discussion, Rather asked each member of the panel what they wanted now and whether they wanted revenge for their loved one's loss.
Every panelist answered thoughtfully and poignantly, but not one of them said they wanted revenge. The grieving father said he wanted people around the world to come to understand us better, because then they wouldn't hate us. The grieving widow said that the last thing she wanted was for anyone to suffer the loss of a loved one the way that she had.
Yet after listening to their answers, Dan Rather—the only person at the table who had not lost a loved one on September 11, 2001—said: "Well, I want revenge. And I want it to be fierce, and I want it to be swift."
As we remember the tragic events that etched the date September 11 forever on our calendars, let us prayerfully remember those who lost their lives on that day. And let us remember just as prayerfully those who are fighting for their lives, and for our country, even today in Afghanistan and elsewhere. May each of us become a vessel through which the power of love can extend itself and in time transform the world.
Dear God, please work a miracle among us. Turn fear into love, war into peace, the forces of death into the forces of eternal life. And so it is. Amen.