September 11, 2001.
This date alone sends shivers down our spine. And the heart-wrenching memories of that fateful day are etched in the minds and hearts of all people who cherish life and liberty.
As we are about to commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and as we honor the many heroes who sacrificed their lives to save so many innocent men and women, here are three humble lessons that will, hopefully, help transform our tears into triumph, and our pain into gain:
Lesson One: “Choose life!” (Deuteronomy 30:19)
Amidst the terror of this unfathomable act of terrorism, a fascinating juxtaposition appeared:
Here, at the World Trade Center, gathered thousands of freedom-loving people. There, a world apart, stood their callous murderer, determined to obliterate freedom, and spew evil, havoc, and destruction. Although Moses commanded us to “choose life, so that you and your children may live,” (Deuteronomy, 30:19), they chose carnage and annihilation. Indeed, the sanctity and celebration of life that we cherish so deeply disturbs those who hate it so fervently.
We pray and hope that the United States Government and other world-powers will continue to do what they can to ensure that terrorism never prevails. But our response must be more personal; it must speak to the values that fill our souls. Where there is evil and darkness, we must “choose life,” and with actions that create goodness, kindness, and peace. For, it is not enough to focus on that which we are fighting against; we must also know that which we are fighting for.
This is quiet heroism — there are no flamboyant shows, no dramatic gestures that capture attention. I am not so naïve as to believe that good deeds alone will stop this evil. But we can shape our world, by our actions — from prayer to charity, from repairing a broken relationship to lending a helping hand to the many who need us.
Lesson Two: “If we ever forget that we are One Nation Under G-d, then we will be a nation gone under.” (Ronald Reagan)
From the horrors of this day, a comforting and deeply encouraging scene emerged.
Suddenly, people from all backgrounds united as one. At that moment, we understood that what unites us — our Divine image with which we were created and the “certain unalienable rights, such as life, liberty, and happiness,” with which He endowed us — is so much greater than what divides us.
Sadly, our discourse ever since seems to have become more and more divisive and our unity has been shattered by slander, gossip, and partisan self-righteousness, to name a few. But it is not too late to change its current and restore our status as “one nation under God”. For example, instead of using terms such as “us” and “them,” let us use the word, “we.” And let us remember that we can, and perhaps, sometimes should disagree and battle ideas, dare we not become disagreeable and battle people.
Lesson Three: Life Is Too Precious To Let It Go To Waste
It is an astounding fact.
If you’re around 25 years old and older, you probably remember exactly where you were on that dreadful day of September 11, 2001. Whether you were in New York or on the other side of the world, that moment in time stands frozen. But why? Why is this day, and that moment, etched in our memories?
Some may tell you it is because you lived a part of history. Others may say that it is because everyone who wasn’t there, feels as if their life has been saved.
The answer, I believe, is deeper:
September 11 did not just destroy two of the tallest towers of the outside world, but it also threatened the towers of our inner beings. Suddenly, life seemed so vulnerable. The achievements and ‘towers’ of our lives appeared so fragile. The creations and ‘buildings’ of our years on earth seemed so breakable.
And so, when we ask ourselves, “Where were we on September 11,” we ought to ask: Where were we, not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually, on September 11? Where were our instincts and emotions on September 11? What did our instincts and emotions awaken in us? Did they rewire our perspective on the meaning — and vulnerability — of life? And did we change in any way?
20 years have passed, but the same questions remain: Have we developed? Have we rebuilt our ruins with towers of goodness and kindness?
The state of our nation, and our world, may have forever changed on September 11, 2001. But the direction of that change depends on you and me. Let us channel it toward acts of unity, goodness, and kindness, today, tomorrow, and forever.