Like many, churches, our church sponsored special services and events to remember the events of 9/11, and remember, with honor, those who died as a result of the attacks. Not unusual, I suppose. Probably a goodly number of churches repeated some of the same prayers, sang some of the same hymns, listened to some of the same patriotic music. I found our remembrance to be personally profound. Perhaps it was the fact that the Mayor, a man of a different faith, attended our commemoration, but I don't think that alone marked it as special. Perhaps the reminder that local firefighters and police volunteered to travel to New York to assist first responders when they could have stayed safely at home. Or, maybe, it was the special visitor who came from Homeland Security, bringing personal accounts from the front lines, video and slide images, and who presented our church with an American Flag, flown over ground zero, and a second American flag which had embedded in the Stars and Stripes, the names of every person lost to the tragedy. In part, it was watching all ages assemble to learn, to understand the impact that those events have on each and every one of us, and will for all time forward.
As I listened to the time line of events, I realized that my youngest child was less than two years old at the time of the tragedy, and as such, the pictures and films of what had happened seemed new and frightening. I also noticed some of the elders of the congregation, realizing that they may well have been present for the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The list of congregation members currently serving in our military forces was read and prayers were offered. Prayers were offered for those in our church family who are police and fire fighters. Prayers were also offered for the families of all these volunteers, and that word has a real power because, not a single soul in any of those occupations was compelled by their government to risk life and limb. It was pointed out that if each and every one of us really gave some thought, we would find that somebody we know, somebody we are related to, was directly impacted by the events of that day. We were advised to take personal responsibility for the well being of our families....a reminder sorely needed in modern day America. We need to teach our children, just as we were taught. I remember hearing the air raid sirens tested and asking what they were for as a child. I remember asking why the tests of the emergency broadcast system had to interrupt my favorite TV show or radio DJ. I remember my folks talking about being small children and the air raid captains in the neighborhood, the black out drills during WWII. I realized that the majority of people under 30 have little concept of any of this existing. While nuclear bomb shelters in the back yard were a bit before my time, I have read about it and seen video footage. I think that we might actually be in a unique point in history, as in general, the population doesn't seem willing to expend any of their money, time or effort to create these safeguards for their families and homes. The most interesting part of the speaker's message was the notion that the nation cannot rely on the firemen, the police, the military, or the government agencies to address every small aspect of well-being...It simply cannot be done, because of the ratio, the size of our population.
We even dedicated a special worship service to the remembrance, in addition to our usual worship. A special time to focus on the events, and our faith and hope for the future. Our obligations to our fellow human beings and our obligations to God and country. The day was all about respect, remembrance, vigilance, co-operation, and our inter-relatedness. It was sobering, and more impactful, because we were not numbed by the newness of the events. I can remember people on 9/11 crying, rationalizing, not believing that it really happened, or that it was anything other than an accident. Denial was a big part of the first few days as people tried to wrap their head around the new reality of terrorism. And to a great extent, I think alot of the detail, the sheer effort, the devastation, the scope of the events was somewhat lost in the shock. This remembrance gave an opportunity to view the information with less raw emotion. But I do worry that failure to remember is very real. School age children will overlook the stories about terrorism and 9/11, just as children in my generation didn't get to hear much about the conflict in Korea or Viet Nam in our current events and history classes. I fear that in the name of healing, moving forward, we don't instill in our youth, just how fragile our freedoms are, how vulnerable democracy is. Without that understanding, how can the next generation hope to continue to support and protect their homes, families, friends and neighbors. It would almost seem as if we, as a society, have all taken the part of the grasshopper in Aesop's fable-everything is fine, the kick off is at noon central standard time, and the game is being telecast in HD. I was reminded, that we don't take the time to relfect, honor, remember, and learn from the past, so as to preserve and improve the future.
Ironically, the day was tied together completely for me when I returned home. In the course of some routine household chores, I stumbled over something, something that was very significant, a literal part of my daily life for over 15 years. It was a POW bracelet from Viet Nam, complete with the name of a real service person who had already been missing for four years when I got the bracelet and made the commitment to wear it until he returned or his fate was determined. I learned about this man and his family over the course of 15 years....he was career Air Force. a volunteer serving in his third war conflict. Several of his sons chose military service despite their father's unknown status, despite the negative press surrounding Viet Nam. Those bracelets were the only reminders of the missing for years and years before the various Viet Nam memorials were dedicated. My service person never came home. Viet Nam was over for more than a dozen years before proof of his fate came to light, but I wore the bracelet and continued to watch and pray with his family and the families of other POWs-some who actually did return alive. Those who wore POW bracelets to commemorate lost and fallen soldiers didn't receive any fanfare, and the vigil was pretty obscure after the troops came home.
But every time somebody asked why I wore the bracelet and what it was for, it did honor the memory of all those who served in Viet Nam, whether the action was popular or not, it put focus back on those who served others, who served their country. It occured to me that it might be wonderful to have something similar for the victims of 9/11. to include the service personnel who risked everything to save and assist others..... Perhaps that would make it more real, and more personal, and remind all of us that it could have just as easliy occured in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Seattle....it could have been our neighbors and loved ones who never came home from work again. I know that you paid for POW bracelets, and I know the funds went to assist families of the missing, and to insure that the government remained active and diligent in their search for the truth. Wouldn't it be wonderful to fund the proposed assistance to families of the lost, the ill, the maimed in a similar way, where each American could choose to do a little part. And all those little parts would amount to a very large pool, not only financially, but a network of people committed to keeping alive the memories of sacrifice and loss, reminders of what we try to defend at home and abroad, reminders of the freedoms that we enjoy. Finally, all of those who elected to remember and wear the bracelets would be connected t one another regardless of where hey came from, their occupation, their wealth, their education....united they would stand in remembrance and honor.