Memory and Loss

On this tenth anniversary of 9-11, we relive the day that the towers of the World Trade Center buckled and collapsed, the day the Pentagon smoked and airplanes crashed. Televisions across the country re-broadcast pictures of flames pouring out of the jagged chasm in the North Tower. September 11 would be the day our national self image was forever altered, and its images are a flood of memories. We remember. We struggle to explain the event to children who didn’t yet exist when it all happened. Emotions are once again fresh and sore. And as we revisit the terrorist attack, I am amazed at how grief is an attack of its own, often unsuspected until it is upon us.

The freshness of loss catches me off guard. One day in our nation’s history was so much more than that. It sent ripples out across the days to come, touching each of us in unpredicted ways. I am once again conscious not just of what we lost that day but what we continued to lose in the days and years that have followed. Loved ones who have since died deaths unrelated to that attack are mourned today too because days set apart to remember loss bring their absence painfully forward.

Nine years after airplanes crashed into our nation’s story, a young soldier took his life. He was 26 years old. His death came on the ripples of that September day when our nation resolved to declare war on terrorism and sent its young men and women to Iraq. After bravely and honorably serving our country on two different tours and enduring unnameable horrors, word of an immanent third tour in Iraq undid him. And one day in December, in a hotel room not too far from the army base where his airborne division readied itself for yet another deployment, he ended it. I remember my nephew today and grieve the loss of his young and precious life. Today memories older than 9-11 come washing back, the happy phone call our family received on Independence Day 1983, the call from my brother announcing the healthy birth of his first child and my parents’ first grandchild. I remember that sweet blonde-headed toddler doing push ups, groaning and grinning as he pumped his body up and down for all of us to applaud. I remember the snapshots of his smiling face at 2 years old, at 5 years old, the bowl cut and bow tie he donned in one of his earliest pictures. I find it hard to imagine that he ever grew up to pass from this life broken by the scars of a war that is still unfinished.

Memory and loss. An anniversary of national loss reminds us of all our losses, whether they were the loss of loved ones, of futures, of physical health or emotional stability.

Yet today, even as we remember, the smiles of my children shine and the sun warms today with its light. When we remember together, we come together. And that coming together is itself a source of newness and rebirth, a solace and a redemption of the day. Memory and loss. In the ceremonies today, our president read us a psalm. Children who lost parents on that day listen today, survivors. Our nation’s story did not end that day. And as we heal, our president publicly associated our nation with the “God of Jacob.” Beauty comes from ashes by the grace of a God who remembers us and to whom we are not lost.

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