September 12, 2016
Where were you on 9/11?
“A date that will live in infamy” is the description given to December 7th, 1941, by then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt to a joint session of Congress the next day. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, and the destruction galvanized the resolve of America to enter World War II.
For the current generation, September 11, 2001 had the same effect. The War on Terror has been difficult to formalize: countries are far more clear about doing battle with other countries than in defending against a radical ideology. World War II began in 1939; America did not enter the arena until the week of the Pearl Harbor attack – declaring war on Japan on the 8th, and Germany on the 11th. It’s easy to declare war; it’s tougher to get a surrender. The two-front war was over by September of 1945, and participants in the conflict never forgot many of their days in that conflict.
The War on Terror is far less formal. Attacks by the amorphous enemy against America – and, the rest of western culture – had begun long before 9/11. Lacking central control, it was – and, is – easy to redefine it as “criminal activity,” but the size and scope of the antagonism exceeds the conventional understanding of what bad people do in an otherwise civilized society. Radical Jihadists are still on the warpath against all that they believe us to be; they think they’re fighting Christians – whom they call “infidels” – but they’ve lumped all Americans in the same religious category…
Where were you on 9/11? I was sitting in a Starbucks in Tustin, California when I overheard a customer at the counter as he commented to the barista that “a plane has hit one of the Twin Towers.” The details of the next hours went from a casual side-comment to a gripping horror, as people across America watched the horror unfold.
Where were you on 9/10? That’s a tougher question to answer…
Memories happen in moments; life happens in minutes. Memories are few-and-far-between; minutes come and go, most without consequence. We don’t have enough storage capacity in our human mind to archive all of the minutes… but we have the moments memorialized in galleries that tell the story of the meaningful exceptions to the otherwise forgettable flow of experiences, conversations and occasions. We all remember where we were – and, what we were doing – when we received word of the attacks in New York, Washington and in the air over Shanksville, Pennsylvania; the same clarity about the day before does not exist.
Catastrophes burn memories into our minds that are kept in a frozen status: the passage of time does little to numb the details and pain that characterize such an incident. Untimely deaths, unanticipated accidents, life-altering relational failures – broken covenants that interrupted “til death parts us” pathways – never age: they’re as painful after decades as they were when they first impacted.
In the same hallways of history, fame and infamy are kept in memory. Life captures pain and preserves it for posterity, but it also accommodates exaltation with deep imprints that do not fade or disappear.
Here’s a truth that changes life: bad guys are remembered for death and destruction; good guys are remembered for enlivening and encouraging. The 19 terrorists who took over planes on 9/11 are names that are forever associated with evil; the Top-10 men and women who have gone out of their way to imprint life and potential into you have already achieved saint-status in your life story.
What’s the recipe for making a memorable impact on another person? “Therefore, encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11). That’s not insincere fortune-cookie phrases that are scattered indiscriminately: it’s verbalized, positive projection of what’s possible for the person who is realizing the path of God’s call in their life.
How about making a memory – for someone you care about – today?