9/11 is different for me this time around.
I have a new perspective since I joined my local volunteer fire department in 2018 as the chaplain and began training as a probationary firefighter this spring.
Like so many others, today I’m remembering the horror of eighteen years ago.
As I go about my day, I keep thinking of the families who will never be the same since their loved ones died and how that loss continues to impact all of us. I’m remembering our (at least my) naiveté and arrogance by thinking something like global terror could never happen to us here or to a country like ours. I am thinking of the strides we have made since then to keep us more safe while at the same time I also mourn the real human cost of the perpetual wars we have entered…and the world we keep shaping as a result. I’m thinking of the opportunities we have missed toward building a lasting unity (not an imposed uniformity) because it is much easier to keep each other afraid and remain divided than to do the work required to keep drawing us together. Images keep filling my mind, remembering where I was when it happened, the people I knew and the hope that they were OK, the sights and sounds and emotions that still run deep in those moments, hours and days that followed. 9/11 still feels close even though time keeps marching by. I wonder how long the trauma of this day will last among us, and by not knowing what else to do if we find some odd form of comfort in being held hostage by our ongoing grief.
I think on these things with some variation every year on 9/11.
But what is different this year is the kinship I feel with those first responders on 9/11/2001. It is reinforced by the little pager radio I keep nearby that informs me when there is an emergency, the app on my phone that also rings, the skills I keep learning, the training I still need, the comradery of the new team I have joined and the anticipation that the call to respond can come anytime.
My son Joe and I went to the National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center two years ago. One of the things that really struck me were the number of firefighters there from all around the country. (We knew they were firefighters, because fire personnel like to wear company shirts, hats and jackets.) I didn’t anticipate the emotions they would express just by being there and engaging in the stories of others. I can say, I ‘get it’ now, or at least ‘get it’ a little better. Those first responders in New York, Shanksville, and Washington D.C. are one of us. When calls come in, we go.
I don’t share this for likes, shares or kudos. This is more of a reflection for myself that reminds me that sometimes we can see things with fresh eyes and that newness has the ability to change things for us. Sometimes new vantage points can also reinforce our core convictions and even prejudices. We are humans after all, and a day like today reminds me of that reality, for better and for worse.
What are you feeling today?
My hope is that you feel heard, supported and cared for as we all continue to unpack the events of 9/11 and try to keep making sense of the world we live in.
For me, Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor” seems clearer to me today than ever.
That’s the kind of first responder I hope to be.
I hope you keep finding ways to help others when and where they need it too.