I remember as a young boy, the voice of President Roosevelt the day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. He called it a “day of infamy.” I always thought America would never have a day like it again… but it happened. We call it 9/11. It’s the kind of day where you always remember where you were, who you were with, and what you were doing.
At 10 minutes to 9:00 on that fateful morning, I got out of a taxi on the corner of 5th Avenue and 29th street. I remember hearing a low-flying plane pass over my head. I looked up because no one ever hears low-flying jets in New York City. It took me 2 minutes to get to my office and within minutes my phone was ringing. It was my son, Chuck, saying, “Dad, get to the TV. A plane has hit the World Trade Center.” I immediately called my staff together and we discussed how the church would respond. I don’t know how long we met as we decided to robe and just comfort people on the street, but it seemed like a long time. This was a different kind of meeting because we were stunned, not really knowing what to do and what would happen next. Would there be anger, violence, or a stunned city? In the midst of our processing, the door to our conference room burst open abruptly. It was one of our deacons, Stephanie Bailey, who worked for American Express right across from the Trade Center buildings and saw firsthand what had happened. She ran out of her building and walked over 3 miles to get to the church. She said, “I just had to be with my church.”
Throughout the day things were radically different. Everyone was stunned; some in complete shock as they searched for missing loved ones. There were people without any shoes walking north to their homes. Many bodies were darkened by the soot and smoke. As I looked to the south, I could not see the two giant buildings anymore, as I had for so many years. Nothing but rolling clouds of black! I remember the parking lots in the suburban stations that day and all the cars left there without anyone to drive them home.
What are we supposed to feel at a time like that? There a mixture of every kind of feeling: anger, fear, confusion, and so much of the unknown.
Then the stories began of heroism beyond reason, the best of humanity in action. As I speak those words I still get chills, because America’s worst hour also became its finest hour with all the unselfishness and heroism in men and women that day. I remember broadcasting on PBS and the host Bill Moyers made an important statement about our heroic fireman. He said, “As the survivors rushed down, more than 300 fireman rushed up unselfishly to their deaths.”
A New York Times reporter said, “We must be careful that we do not become the enemy.” What she was saying was, we are living in a world where it should not be an eye for an eye. It’s not about getting even. We must find it in our souls to forgive. The best we can do is humble our minds and hearts and seek to forgive. Without that, how is the world going to ever survive?
Almost every day since 9/11 I have been challenged by the word “Peace.” We must declare it in our own lives and urge others to seek it, too, no matter how angry and disturbed they may be. People like you and me can have an effect by demonstrating peace. I encourage you to put aside your feelings of fear and anger and your question of “will it happen again” and focus on personal peace. Peace is not always determined by our circumstances; but our peace can come from the great spirit of the universe whom we know as God. There you will find peace.
Jesus said in His sermon on the mount,
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”
Let us honor our many heroes of 9/11 on this, our 10th anniversary, by sending them all the peace and love in our hearts.