Tuesday, September 11, 2012

May it Always Seem like Yesterday

In a few days I will drive north to spend five full days in Harpers Ferry and Antietam to help document and commemorate the 150th anniversaries of these two Civil War battles.  Exactly one year ago I wrote about the commemoration of the Civil War and observed that “I retain hope that I will get to [work at the 150th anniversary commemoration] at one of the other battlefields in the next few years.” Now I am working at nearly all of the big anniversaries in a position that I certainly did not foresee when I wrote those words a year ago.   The path of life is often characterized by unexpected turns. Mine most certainly has been in recent years.

Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the  Pentagon. For many people those attacks are little more than a distant memory. For some, they are a chapter in the history books. But for the families of those who lost their lives that day and the soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan, the 9/11 attacks continue to resound with and reverberate with great force. Much changes depending on the position from whence we view something.  In looking back on what I wrote on 9/11 each of the last four years I have been struck by the differences in tone each year as my perspective has changed. Yet, through each perspective there are windows that reflect larger truths.

Seven Years of Reflections

Four years ago I wrote about the upcoming presidential election.  I wrote that, “This is an important season for our country. We will soon be facing one of the most significant presidential elections in American history. It is a big deal and our future will look very different depending on what happens in that election.”  I think that was a fair assessment four years ago. I also think that the current election climate could be described in a similar fashion.  I am continually disappointed at the divisive and derisive characteristics of each of the primary presidential candidates. Seeking to capitalize on division and fear is precisely what this nation does not need, and I, at least, find myself pushed further away from both candidates as a result.  

Again the words I wrote in 2008 seem appropriate: “as we think about who to vote for and listen to the rhetoric of both candidates, let’s think beyond simply our own personal needs and think about what we should do as citizens of God's kingdom.”  The words of the prayer with which Jena Lee Nardella closed the opening night of the 2012 Democratic Convention last week express a similar sentiment.  “Give us gratitude for our right to dissent and disagree. For we know that we are bound up in one another and have been given the tremendous opportunity to extend humanity and grace when others voice their deeply held convictions even when they differ from our own.

It is so easy to get caught up in what makes us different. But 9/11 reminds us that we would do far better in these next eight weeks to focus on our common bond as Americans and, as I wrote four years ago, “be who God told us to be. Let’s live out of love and fill each day with the kind of selfless loving sacrifice that we saw exhibited on 9/11.” 

9/11 redefined what it looks like to be a hero. The heroes of 9/1 were Police officers, firemen, and ordinary citizens, who saw a need, took decisive and selfless action, and in far too many cases lost their lives.
Though our response to 9/11 is usually focused on the war on terror, in 2009 I attempted to remind us  “perhaps we would do better to rethink the meaning behind those actions, to recognize what we are doing wrong, and to let it be the progenitor of a new way of living.  If we are willing to take that journey we may well find, like John Muir did when he viewed the natural beauty that surrounded him that, “new beauty meets us at every step in all our wonderings.” And there is nothing more valuable than the pursuit of truth and beauty.”

It is difficult to look at pictures such as these and not see truth and beauty. It doesn’t matter if these men are Democrats or Republicans, white or black, straight or gay. Such images reflect the higher ideals that this nation represents.

It was such ideals and ideas that I wrote of in 2010. “Ideas are what this nation is founded upon. Ideas centered upon the unalienable axiomatic rights shared by all citizens of humanity… “There is nothing more important than the unity of the common bond of humanity, uniting us together as a free and independent state firmly relying upon God and his values as we seek to live them out in support of one another. That, like our fathers before us, “’with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.’”

Tragedies like 9/11 have a way of showing our true colors, of reflecting what we believe in vibrant color. Last year in reflecting upon some of the anniversaries that were commemorated in 2011 I wrote that, “each of these anniversaries marks something significant that has helped to shape the character of America and determine what we, as Americans, believe in.” There is more to the United States of America than political discord. This nation remains unique in world history as a shining example of the value of the common man, and we cannot let our light be overshadowed by the darker side of our national character. As President Bush put it: “we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world and no one will keep that light from shining.”

We do not always agree. We need not look far for proof of that. If there is one thing that my work with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War has consistently reminded me of, it is the importance of love and common purpose and the danger of divisiveness. We are defined by what we believe. Last year I wrote that: “Our beliefs shape us and determine the way we live. Let us believe in something worth the believing, in the loving compassion of a God that desires that all of his creation be reconciled unto Him so that each element might both bring glory to His name and live as it was intended to live, in an existence characterized by freedom, hope, community, and love. “  

Symbols are powerful agents for change. Let us use 9/11 as a continued symbol to unite this nation together and better reflect not only our national values, but the values of out Heavenly Father.

Last year on 9/11 I had to work at the Visitor Center in Shenandoah but Alison went to the Newseum in
Washington, DC. In a city known (and rightly so) for the Smithsonian museums, this newer arrival is often overshadowed. But it bears powerful reminder of the importance of perspective and the impact of the unexpected turns in life. I got to visit it myself earlier this year. These are some of the symbols on display to help tell the story of America. 

   The radio antenna from atop one of the towers. 

 Display of the front pages of newspapers around the word proclaiming the attack.

May it always seem like yesterday.

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