Seventeen Years

This week we commemorate the 17thanniversary of that Tuesday morning when church doors were opened, and people wept openly in the streets. Loved ones were lost and true heroism became the top story on the evening news. Initials like “FDNY” took on new meaning and, for a moment, the world stood still and mourned.

No one who is in grade school or high school can tell you about their experiences of that day. In fact, some of the people teaching those very students were likely in grade school and high school themselves that fateful day. Those old enough to remember can tell you the stories of where they were, what they were doing, and how their lives were interrupted for a few days. They can tell you how quiet the skies were and how filled the churches became. They can tell you about the return of major league sports, prime-time television, and how a president inspired a nation with a bullhorn as he stood atop the rubble.

But as a country, we have forgotten the lessons of that day. We have forgotten how important it is to talk to each other and hold hands once in a while. Patriotism has been replaced by partisanism and no one really has a conversation anymore. Instead, we define people by right or left and we stand on the side we think defines us and we yell at each other. People who dare to cross the proverbial aisle to work with another person are condemned as traitors and are called names by colleagues and friends. Ideologies define us and all that we are sure of is that the other side is wrong.

We are an impatient people, made more impatient but the glut of news and the lack of filters. Where you get your news creates a line of demarcation about where you sit and who you believe and how great you think our country is – or could be.

Seventeen years ago, we stopped fighting for a little while. Politicians stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, “God Bless America.” Color and race and creed and orientation did not matter – especially if you needed saving or rescuing or defending. We recognized how fragile life had always been when we saw photos of strangers hanging on a fence and commuter lots filled with cars whose owners were not coming back.

This week, maybe we could pause to remember those who died needlessly that day, stolen from their families by a madman. Perhaps we could remember those who ran into the buildings. They ran into the buildings. Perhaps we can remember the thousands who have died since then – and are still dying – combatting the power of evil in the world.

Most of all, we should remember the civility, the calm, and the longing for peace that was so palpable in the days and weeks that followed that awful day. These are the lessons we must teach today’s young people. They did not experience any of those things and if we are not very careful, they never will.

Let there be peace on earth, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our families, in our workplaces, in our country, in our hearts.

And let it begin with me.



I remember the day that a little girl fell down a well and the world watched while she was rescued.

And the well got covered and the little girl grew up.

I remember when the Space Shuttle fell from the sky shortly after takeoff killing all the astronauts on board, including a school teacher who won a contest.

And the fleet was grounded for years while protocols were amended.

I remember when a group of miners was trapped underground and people all over the world held their collective breath until the very last one came to the surface.

And mining regulations changed.

I remember when evil hijacked the planes and the towers fell.

And we changed the way we check in and get screened at the airport, we went to war, and we hunted down the guilty party and made movies about the whole experience.

I remember when oil gushed beneath the Gulf of Mexico and people dove into the sea to escape the flames.

And the number of inspectors tripled, and audits of offshore oil rigs became more complicated.

I remember being in a classroom with junior high students watching on television as children in Littleton, CO ran from the building.

I remember Paducah, Tacoma, Knoxville, and the Amish children in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

I remember the night and weeks following Newtown and how we held each other and our children so much closer.

I remember people arguing about politics and guns and parenting and I remember politicians crying and celebrities offering thoughts and prayers.

But nothing changed.

So, now, seventeen more children and adults are dead, and the arguing has started all over again.

And parents everywhere wonder…

Will things be different this time?


Amid the Chaos, Hope

An anniversary passes today that will likely be lost in the news of hurricanes and presidential tweets. With the start of school, open houses, meetings with teachers, and homework, today might just go unnoticed.

Since that Tuesday morning sixteen years ago the world has changed in so many ways. We are more alert, more aware, more afraid, and, with every passing day, more likely to forget how that day played out. We are different people than we were back then. We are older, wiser. We are fathers and mothers now, seeking ways to protect our children. The babies born that year are now well into into  high school. Millions of people born since that day have no memory of the Twin Towers or that remote field in Pennsylvania or the moment the Pentagon walls came down. Like so many sayings that come and go, “Let’s roll!” means very little to this my children’s generation.

But it’s important to remember. It is important to tell the story.

A few weeks after that terrible day, two of my sisters came to visit and we went to visit Ground Zero. The fires were still smoldering. Bodies were still being recovered. Guards were posted ever few yards and facing outward towards the throngs of people who came to pray, or just to watch. There was a silence, a stillness, over the crowd. Enough time had passed that the flyers announcing the missing were weathered. But not enough time had passed to stop people from openly weeping in the streets.

As I stood there, I caught the eye of an officer with the NYPD. Without thinking, I said the first thing that popped into my head. It’s a bad habit of mine.

“How unbelievably hard it must be for you to stand there, when so many of your brothers are still buried.”

I was almost immediately sorry I said it because I saw the pained look on his face. I had hit a nerve so raw, so near the surface, that I was sure he wanted to either cry or hit me. But as I saw his eyes go to the youth ministry logo on my jacket, the pained expression gave way to peace. He even smiled.

His answer haunts me still. He looked me in the eye and spoke without hesitation, almost has if he had planned his response: “I’m Catholic too – and there is a lot death, a lot of evil here, so much…” he paused, “crucifixion.” Then he cocked his head in the direction of the graveyard behind him and added, “But there is resurrection too. So I’m standing by the tomb and I’m waiting.”

I remember the voice, the thick New York accent. I remember his eyes. I remember everything about that night.

The world is filled with evil, darkness, chaos, murder, violence, and war.

The world is also filled with light.

May you find light this week. May any cross you face bring you to a tomb.

Because the tomb, the floods, the fires, the worry and the anxiety – all lead to emptiness. And, in the end, it is an emptiness that brings us face to face with life.



I remember, like all of you, where I was on that Tuesday morning fifteen years ago. I remember watching the events unfold, the emails from around the globe as family checked on family, the phone calls from Brazil as messages were relayed to and from my uncle who lived there to family living in Tennessee because calling Brazil that morning was possible; calling family in New York was not.

But more than anything, I remember watching the news, the coverage, the stories, and the sadness. I have always been fascinated by the news, long before I studied journalism in college. In those days that followed I was pinned to the television. I could not watch enough. I remember how, in those early hours, the people called the place “Ground Hero” in memory of all those brave men and women who ran into the fire. They ran into the fire.

Soon the media would rename it Ground Zero, the epicenter, even though for some families, the epicenter was the Pentagon or a field in Pennsylvania. The moniker stuck, like it often does when people repeat it again and again.

I remember, in the midst of the chaos, the cameras turned to the families when the families started to gather because their loved ones had not come home from work. The pictures of the missing filled the screen as commercials were abandoned and some channels were too overcome with grief to broadcast at all. I remember the pictures. The men and women holding posters with photos of their parents, brothers, sisters, lovers, and friends adhered hastily to anything they could find. Just to be able to stand with a photo was enough. There were no words.

Then, because journalists are human and most humans are afraid of silence, the reporter thrust a microphone towards a woman and quietly said, “Tell us about your husband.”

“Every time he walked into the room,” she replied, “He took my breath away.”

Fifteen years later, it still gives me chills.

May our God, who is beyond all understanding, give you peace this week.

May we look upon those we love with the face of Jesus.

May we practice patience.

May we be people of peace.

And may we, in the silence of our hearts, pause for moment to look at the bright blue September sky.

To remember to give thanks.

For a faithful God who takes our breath away.

Again and again and again.