This week’s calendar includes a chilling anniversary which I’d like to forget. I still shiver a bit whenever I hear “911”. Whether in reference to an emergency call to the rescue squad or to the day which changed our lives forever seventeen years ago, I’ll never free my memory of the images those numbers elicit. Like many of you, I know exactly where I was when news of that airliner’s crash into the World Trade spread over the airways. I was filling my empty gas tank. By the time the second assault occurred, I’d arrived at my workplace, a school filled with local students and the children of United States Navy personnel.
I’ve never felt as helpless as I did that day. No one knew what would follow. I wondered what we would tell these children if the Great Lakes Naval Training Station was the target of a third or fourth or fifth assault. How could we protect these children if an explosion sent flying debris as far as the school building we occupied? At the end of the day, would we be able to house and feed and console these potential orphans? After I reviewed the building’s disaster plan, I played and replayed possible scenarios in my mind. The principal used a prearranged code to alert the staff that the building was on lockdown. There would be no outdoor recess and no solo trips throughout the building until further notice. Since I was a reading teacher who pulled children from other classrooms, I had no class of my own. That day, other support staff and I were assigned to walk the halls, to make certain that every door to the outside was securely locked and to allow no strangers into the building. During these rounds, I stopped in the office often to check the news, hoping against hope that a freak accident, rather than intense hatred, would explain what had occurred.
As I considered the gravity of the situation, Jeremy, a former student, tapped me on the hand. He was standing in line with his classmates. “Mrs. Penich, look what I got.” As the second grader pulled a picture from his pocket, he told me, “I know who she is. She’s God’s mom. I learned about her at church. You can have it.” I was so stunned by all that had happened that day that it took me a few minutes to absorb what Jeremy had said. When I realized that I hadn’t thanked him for the beautiful holy card, I followed his class down the hall to do just that. Afterward, I turned the card over and found my favorite prayer to Mary, The Memorare. Whenever I’d been in a seemingly desperate situation, this prayer had carried me through. What an amazing coincidence that Jeremy would gift me with this reminder to hope when things seemed more desperate than ever. I still have that holy card…
In the end, there was no third, fourth or fifth attack. Thank heaven for the brave group of airline passengers who responded to “Let’s roll” in an effort to keep their plane from doing more damage. Our school wasn’t pelted with flying debris that day and our students returned home to their parents that evening. Families remained intact at least for a while.
Though September 11, 2001, continues to be a source of sorrow over what was lost that day, it is also a source of gratitude over what was gained. In the face of the epitome of human evil, the epitome of human goodness stood tall. Do you remember the hundreds of human interest stories regarding Good Samaritans during the weeks and months afterward? I never grew tired of hearing them. What a miracle it was to watch the goodness of humankind cast a shadow on evil, even if for just a little while…
In today’s first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4-7a), the prophet tells us that we must “Be strong, and fear not!” Regardless of the disasters which befall God’s people, we and this world of ours will be replenished, refreshed and made new once again. If this isn’t enough, Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:31-37) follows with Jesus’ response to calamity. Once again, Jesus stunned those who followed him with his gift of renewed life. This time, the recipient was a deaf man who’s difference had isolated him from life within his community. When Jesus cured him, the man’s life truly began anew.
An immeasurable amount of renewal took place during the months after September 11, 2001. I cringe over the additional devastation which has occurred in the years-long aftermath. Still, I find consolation in the outpouring after these incidents. Though these selfless deeds seem less dramatic than what was accomplished in 2001, the renewal experienced by victims is equally poignant. I’ve decided to observe September 11, 2018, by remembering. I’ll remember Isaiah’s insistence to be strong. I’ll remember Jesus’ example of renewing others by responding wherever I’m needed. I’ll remember my own fear from that fateful day and I’ll sow seeds of peace wherever I go. I’ll remember that, in spite of our disagreements on so many levels, we can always come together to do good.
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