Ten Years Later

September 4th, 2011
Image © Marc AuMarc | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Where Were You?

Do you remember where you were ten years ago on September 11? Most of us were on our way to work or settling in at school, going about our day as we normally would in our seemingly safe part of the world. Then, by mid-afternoon, if we were not among the brave men and women at Ground Zero either saving lives or literally running for our lives, we were parked in front of a television or radio looking on or listening to the breaking news out of New York City; Washington, DC; and Pennsylvania.

The horrific images of the planes slamming into the Twin Towers still linger in the minds of Americans. And the catchphrase Let’s roll has taken on a whole new meaning due to the courage of the brave passengers over Pennsylvania who refused to go down without a fight.

It’s hard to believe that ten years have gone by because the memories are still so fresh in many people’s minds. So much about the fabric of our nation has been shaken to its core, and the culture in which we live has changed in ways we still see unfolding all these years later. So how do we mark this tenth anniversary? How can we move forward and even reclaim a day that is marred with such evil as a day for hope?

A Whole New World

Before September 11, 2001 (now commonly referred to as 9/11), the world was still in the post–Cold War era. And while the US military had been deployed in the Middle East, the Balkans, and Somalia in the 1990’s, a new historical shift came about swiftly on 9/11. The post-9/11 world brought with it a top–down emphasis on military defense and protecting US borders. Vigilance, in many ways, replaced a general sense of freedom of going about our days as though nothing like this could ever happen on our turf.

The new era meant new government agencies and oversight that did not exist on September 10, 2011. The Department of Homeland Security, the USA Patriot Act, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Homeland Security Advisory System, to name a few, are the result of America’s response to the terrorist attacks. The horrific day exposed some vulnerability in the United States, which led to these new agencies and alert systems. Some of these governmental changes brought about criticisms because some people believed they danced on the edge of violating civil liberties and fostered a culture of fear.

With the increased focus on security and protection came an undercurrent of fear and anxiousness. A loss of innocence and a question of safety crept in and is stamped in the minds of many Americans for whom this was the first affront. Before the attacks on September 11, young Americans could not have believed that such an evil attack could be carried out on our soil. But the world has changed now.

Look also to how our language has changed. Before 9/11, the term al-Qaida was reserved for a few news stories here and there. Before 9/11, anthrax was a known deadly pollutant but not thought of as a weapon. The phrase Ground Zero has come to mean the site of the attacks. Reports of suicide bombers are covered regularly on newscasts. And even the term 9/11 has gone from being notable as an emergency phone number to being a commonly used way to reference that day.

Most of all, the change in many Americans is at the visceral level. We know what happened, and we know was has happened since. But we feel differently; we feel changed in our hearts and in our bones. According to a recent New York Daily News exclusive poll, more than 50 percent of New Yorkers still fear an attack all of the time. The same poll reports that 25 percent of New Yorkers are suspicious of Muslims, and 26 percent of them think about the attacks every single day. Indeed, we live in a whole new world.


Ten-year anniversaries usually bring with them nice dinners, gifts, and celebrations. We mark them with a reflective look back and a new dream for the future. While “celebrating” doesn’t quite grasp the emotion of a 9/11 anniversary, the looking back and looking forward are exactly what many Americans will be doing. Who can forget the number of victims? The 9/11 Commission report notes that more than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Center, 125 people at the Pentagon, and 256 passengers on the four airplanes. The report goes on to say that the number of deaths surpasses the death toll of the December 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor.

We look back with gratitude at the bravery and the sacrifice of those who rushed to the scene and ultimately lost their own lives. We look back with appreciation for the crowds of people who stopped what they were doing to run and help anyone in any way they could. We look back with deep love and longing for more time with the friends and family we lost.

But we also look forward. We look forward with the hope and assurance that fear is not the final word. This is why many communities are turning the day into one of remembrance and service. In the Chicago area, three churches are coming together to reclaim September 11 as a day of hope, calling it HopeFest 2011. New Hope United Methodist Church, First United Methodist Church of Park Ridge, and First United Methodist Church of Des Plaines will begin their day with a service of remembrance, where there will be a ceremony to commemorate a 200-pound beam from the World Trade Center. Then a flurry of volunteers will go out into the communities to give CPR training, write thank-you notes for police and first responders, host blood drives, and perform many other service and mission efforts.

These churches show us how to reclaim a day of evil as a day of hope. We could focus on the evil acts of some vigilante terrorists. We could despair at the depth of loss our nation has experienced. We could close our doors and windows and shut out the world. Or we could honor the victims and the first responders by doing what they did, selflessly giving ourselves to being a community. We could trust in the God who walks with us in the darkest valley and claim a hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ, that death has lost its victory (1 Corinthians 15:55). Because of the resurrection, in theologian Frederich Buechner’s words, “the worst thing is never the last thing.”

A New Decade

On July 24, 2002, author and missionary Safiyah Fosua preached at the Upper Room chapel in Nashville, Tennessee, calling the congregation gathered there to have new visions of the future. She stated, “We live in a world that is hungry for visions of God. We have just endured the worst tragedy that our country has ever seen. Americans have endured something so terrible that it reset our clocks—9-1-1. Since then, everything in our immediate world has been shaken. How can we see God in the midst of our pain? Helen Keller once said the most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision. What vision is God offering to us in these post-9/11 years?” She asked, “Will we hang our harps by the willows, substituting laments for praises? [Psalm 137:1-4] or will we work to offer the world a fresh vision of God?”

Nine years later, that message still rings true. We have a story to tell the world, not about our might and our vengeance, but of our hope and resolve. We have a story to tell the world about how we choose peace when war would be so much easier. We have a story to tell about choosing hope when despair is the expected choice. As we reflect on September 11, 2001, we tell our stories and memories of that day. We remember the lives lost and the families still grieving. We struggle with the reality of war. Yet at the same time, we make a choice to live a life full of hope and imagination. We refuse to be afraid. We believe the words of Jesus in John 14:26-28: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.”


This article is part of FaithLink, a weekly downloadable discussion guide for classes and small groups. FaithLink motivates Christians to consider their personal views on important contemporary issues, and it also encourages them to act on their beliefs. The complete study guide accompanying this article can be purchased here.

comments powered by Disqus