9/11 Remembered – Choices, Consequences and Lessons

She entered the room with a panic stricken look about her. “Steve,” she tried to say forcefully but quietly. Then tears erupted as she, in a more commanding voice said, “Steve, it’s your brother. It’s New York. It’s been hit!”

In the midst of a regional meeting, I had no clue what she was talking about. All I knew was she just called the regional president out of a very important meeting. What could be that important?

Moments later, Steve returned and said Chuck, you better come here. You need to see this. In the lobby, employees who worked in the building were huddled around a small portable TV watching in dismay as we, together, saw the plane fly into the second tower of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. In that moment, 9/11 was unfolding in front of our eyes and we, like the rest of the Nation, were powerless to stop it. Choices had been made by a few and consequences were unfolding for the masses.

I recall taking just a moment to reflect on some words I used to hear my mother say. “I’ll never forget what I was doing when I first heard that President Kennedy was shot.” My momentary thought was – no one will forget what he or she was doing when they first heard of the horrific attacks on innocent US citizens on September 11, 2001. Even today, some six years later, that meeting and the moments that followed are etched in my memory.

The following is an excerpt from Stories Of September 11th by Deborah Geary-Aks: On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was on my way to work at 55 Water Street. I had just ascended the stairs of the A train subway station at Nassau Street when the first plane hit at about 8:43 AM. There was a loud BOOM and smoke billowed out of the building…paper floated down from the sky and it looked like little white birds against the blue sky. I stood on the street watching the North Tower burn and I was certain that it had been a bomb until someone told me that it was a plane – from my location, I could make out the tail of the plane sticking out of the building. I was grateful that it was an accident and although people had died, it wasn’t a bomb. I called my work to tell them that I was on my way and as soon as I hung up the phone there was a loud WHOOOSH, BOOM, followed by a huge plume of fire shooting from the side of the South Tower! At that moment, we knew that this wasn’t some poor pilot having a heart attack; we were under attack! The feeling in my chest at that moment has stayed with me over the past six years – the pounding of a very loud drum that reverberates through your entire body as a band marches by. That’s what the explosion felt like – except bigger, much, much bigger. And, the paper kept raining down on us – closer to the towers, it was paper, bodies, and other debris – plane parts, building parts and other horrible evidence of the fact that life for us would never be the same.

Lives were changed that day throughout our country – throughout the world. Lives were changed in many ways, some we may never fully comprehend. As I sit and reflect, the question for this special writing marking the sixth anniversary of September 11, is what have we learned? Perhaps some of the following may be true for us all. Perhaps our learning is different and individualistic. Since, I suspect, no lives went untouched that day in some ways we all have learned something. Some thoughts are as follows:

As humans we can choose our actions and our response. Those whose ideology see Westerners (especially Americans) as infidels choose to make their point through senseless acts of terror. The consequence – retaliation. Likewise, as a nation we choose to invade a country based on erroneous data and put American lives at stake. The consequence – loss of American life, loss of moral respect in the world community and loss of trust in government or governmental agenda. It seems clear that military power may be a deterrent, but with all the might of the United States, we clearly know that a rogue terror organization can strike. Every choice has a consequence. We’ve learned that retaliation can backfire.

Islam (generally a peaceful religion) has suffered a black eye due to fundamental extremists. We often find mirrored back to us what we portray. Many in the Muslim world are, today, hated and distrusted based on the terror acts of a senseless few. Hate begets hate. We are a country founded on the rights of the many who first sought a home here, yet, within our own borders we have fundamental extremists who would just as quickly wield destruction to promote their ideology or cause. The Oklahoma City bombing comes to mind. We’ve learned that when our values and rights have been violated, we quickly judge and quickly hate.

The spirit of the human race is so much more powerful than the dark hatred of a minuscule few. The acts of heroism that rallied a Nation together brought out the best of our society to a height of love and support that few have seen in the recent past. We remember those who selflessly gave their lives in the pursuit of saving the lives of others. We remember the daring of those passengers on an inbound plane who gave their lives to avert the probable deaths of countless others. We remember the sense of giving and outpouring of love to all in positions of leadership, knowing that their choices would have direct consequences for the healing of our country. We remember where we were and how we felt on that day. We learned about true altruism.

As I look back over the six years there are a few things that seem crystal clear today. The power of the human spirit bathed in love is far greater than anything that hate can hurl our way. The ability to forgive, and maybe even try to understand another’s perspective, has a greater impact than immediate retaliation. Most of all, we have seen unfold over this short six-year time frame, the direct relationship to choices and consequences. We have not seen the end of the consequences, rather we are seeing new choices being made leading to more consequences. We can pray that we will clearly understand that every choice has a consequence. We are fortunate in that we can choose the outcome based on the initial choice we make.

For the loss of life on September 11th we stop for a moment of silence. For the power of the human spirit to rise above the hate of a few, we give thanks. For the freedom to choose, we are in awe.

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