Deal W. Hudson
September 11, 2002
Many of us have been dreading the approach of the one-year anniversary of September 11th. After a long year of suffering under the memory of that horrible day, most of us are loath to relive it. We want to forget, or at least not subject ourselves anew to the pain of facing those images that have haunted us ever since. The media have been increasing their coverage of the events building up to this day, and commentators everywhere have been weighing in with their reflections on what the anniversary means.
Last September, such reflections seemed timely and important, and Americans everywhere put aside their differences and petty concerns to stand together in our time of grief. These days, however, that sense of urgency is waning, and most of us just want to make it through the day without being dragged down under the weight of bad memories. What’s the point of re-opening the wounds?
Let me answer with a story. You wouldn’t have heard it in the news; none of the major broadcasters picked it up, and it eventually got lost amidst all the countless stories from that day. A few days after the attack, on his visit to New York City and Ground Zero, President Bush made a stop to a nearby convention center where he was to speak to a group of people who had lost family members at the World Trade Center. His schedule only allowed for a brief speech and 20 minutes at the gathering before the Secret Service would whisk him off to safety. (Security concerns were still high at the time.)
But when the president saw the intense grief of the people, he decided he wouldn’t give a speech after all. Instead, he stayed in the building until he had personally spoken with every last person there. He spent two hours praying, hugging, and grieving for each individual, allowing himself to share in their unspeakable pain.
Bush wasn’t playing to any cameras or grabbing any headlines, or trying to gain voter support. He was simply leading the country the best way he knew – by uniting with people in their suffering and showing his personal support. On that day, President Bush gave an important example of how to handle adversity: stand strong in the face of ultimate grief and despair.
In the months since September 11th, the regular concerns of life came pressing back in, and our focus was distracted. Catholics were shaken by the sex abuse scandal, and the country began thinking of war. Life has continued with all its joys, sorrows, and distractions.
But I encourage you on this anniversary not to be distracted. Remember that day in all its horror and sorrow. As President Bush demonstrated, it’s not enough to pay lip service to the victims of this tragedy – we must all be united in our grief, but also in our support of one another. It’s only when we confront this event personally that we can overcome it.
At the World Youth Day in Toronto this year, Pope John Paul II had some encouraging words of hope for the people who had been shaken, words that could help us all through this difficult time.
“Although I have lived through much darkness…I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs eternal in the hearts of the young… Do not let that hope die! Stake your lives on it! We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.”