9/11 was the formative day in my generation’s history, we cling to the last vestiges of the era before, we also remember what happened directly afterward.
Rev. Jonathan Faulkner
Author’s Note: this piece was originally written in August 2020 and scheduled for September 2021 in honor of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, however the current national situation prompts it to run a year early.
During the cleanup, I stood in what was once the subway station outside the South Tower. My high school choir was in New York for the Fiesta Val Choir Competition and we had gone through all the necessary steps to perform at the entrance to the station that overlooked what used to be one of the icons of the New York skyline, buildings I had seen only once as we traveled from Ohio to Albany New York on a family trip. Before the scheduled performance we went into the subway station lined with chalk and crayon drawings of the surviving children of the lives lost that terrible day. After this and a lot of tears, we went back up to the entrance to perform our concert but the emotional toll of the day, on both us and our director made him call the concert off. Instead we stood in formation and sang the National Anthem facing the flag while we all cried. Our director noted that this was the best we ever performed the Anthem. I am not sure if this next part of the story is true or not, but I am told that during the Anthem the sun broke through the clouds and shown through the flagpole onto the Choir. Which may have contributed to all the crying high school students.
In our minds, we could all think back to where we were that day. Something we all do, something the generation before us do with the Kennedy or Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinations or the Challenger Disaster. I was in my fifth-grade homeroom, Mr. Daily was my teacher and the day was normal. That is, until a girl named Kaylee entered and informed us a plane had hit the world trade center. Mr. Daily instantly went to the TV and turned on the Television and found the news, almost instantly a second plane hit the second building and the sounds of shocked students filled the classroom. Some of my classmates, if I recall, had family members who worked in the towers, and so fear became the day. I do not really remember much else from that day, we were sent home after lunch, the plane that had hit the Pentagon and the plane that crash landed in in PA had flown over our area of South East Ohio.
But I also remember the iconic picture of George W. Bush with a Bull Horn at the site of the disaster, I remember his words that Charlie Sykes reprinted in this mornings Bulwark Newsletter.
“The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger.
“These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.
“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”
– President George W. Bush on Sept. 11, 2001.
I also remember the days, months and years after September 11th 2001, I remember that Church attendance spiked as people sought answers, that we all took time to care for our neighbors a little bit more than usual. I remember the sense of unity that underlay the whole thing, That national lament and grieving together that marked not just American Unity, but the International Unity that is reflected in Bush’s words above. We knew the whole world heard us and was grieving with us. Russia even sent us the little known “Tear Drop” statue that has been the subject of viral posts recently. Today the “Freedom Tower” stands where the Twin Towers once stood, an impressive structure, especially up close. Where the two towers once stood a park stands in memory of the 2,977 Americans who died that day, in Shanksville PA a similar monument stands and the same is true in DC. Where, at least on my last visit, you could still see where the rebuilding had taken place. We went on like this for some time, loving and caring for our neighbors and then…piece by piece…thread by thread…we began to fracture, come unwind and fall apart. Leading to Charlie Sykes other observation from this morning’s newsletter: “We vowed Never To Forget after 2,977 Americans were killed that day. But we lost more Americans just last week. And we’ve already forgotten.”
Do not ask me who is blame because no one person or one thing is to blame for this, that fact is that the principalities and powers of this present darkness have been busy, and while we got a glimpse of that national unity back in March, at the beginning of the Pandemic, that feels so long ago and we have become even more divided in the time since. The reason I say, do not ask me who is to blame, is because finger pointing is one of the reasons, we are in the mess we are in today, far from the embraces of the days post 9/11. People are just agents of the principalities and powers; we participate in the sin that they encourage and inspire. So, instead of a national unity, you get a lot of people doing their own thing and making everyone around them out to be their enemies. If any human is to blame, it is collective blame, not individual. I have been guilty of spreading vitriol as much as everyone else, it has not been until recent years that I have curbed that.
But that is the thing about Memory, were told as kids that we will never forget, and younger people have not forgotten, even as the generations above us that forged that national unity and comradery abandon the civility and sympathy that it generated among us. We remember, and we miss it. Maybe it was not as good as it seemed at the time, and obviously wishful thinking and nostalgia for a bygone era is unhelpful, but that era was 19 years ago, less than a generation, many of the leaders from that time are still alive and still active. So why are we here? When did we abandon caring for our neighbors for mistrust and even loathing for them? Where are our ideals, as a people, and as a nation? I do not know the answer to these questions, but we should consider them, they should hound and haunt us. And I believe they do haunt us; we are desperately trying to claw our way back to that time but have no idea how to get there.
I know the answer at least for the Church, a kingdom within kingdoms, how we get back to the ideals we profess, The only way is through reading and applying scripture in relationship to Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, that is the only way the church gets back. America, I am not sure since we cannot force a secular society to take a morality it does not want. Faith was much more common in the public sphere 19 years ago then it is now, and it will be even less common once the Pandemic ends. Perhaps though, if those now awash in secularism see the Christians living out the ideals of scripture, many of which are enfolded into the nations founding, then we could see this nation come back. But that starts with the Church returning, not the other way around.
9/11 was a watershed day in my history and in everyone else’s. I pray we can find someway to regain what was lost so long ago.
God, heal your Church and through your Church, may you bring healing to the people of America. Amen.
Rev. Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary holding Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife and daughter in Northern Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center