Yesterday was the anniversary of the attack on New York on September 11, 2001. On that day, two commercial jets flew into the World Trade Center towers, and another one flew into the Pentagon.
I remember watching the news that morning, and feeling the strongest sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t afraid for the small town we were living in at the time, but I was gravely concerned for our country, and wondered what was going to happen next. I have to admit, my thoughts did turn to the idea of war on our own soil.
I remember driving to Washington some time after that, and going by the Pentagon, and seeing the devastation there. As we drove by, my heart was filled with heaviness. We returned back home in silence.
Our younger son asked me yesterday afternoon why we don’t forget tragedies such as 9-11. We had been grocery shopping and were pushing the buggy to the car when he asked, “Mom? Why all the talk about 9-11? Why don’t we just forget about it?” Our younger son is a special abilities kid, and he doesn’t like sadness or things that bring on feelings of sadness, not at all. So I took my time in answering, looking to formulate my thoughts in a way that he could grab hold of, and understand. Finally, I came up with these words:
“We never forget, Son, so we will always remember to stand against the threat of terrorism. We use this tragedy to remind us that the world isn’t always good, and we must be vigilant against the threats of evil.”
He responded, “vigilant?”
“Yes, Son. Vigilant.”
I didn’t go into a long, drawn out discussion about all this. However, during the drive home, I thought about it a lot. And I realized something.
When the world is fine, and the days are sunny, and everything seems to be going right, people relax. They aren’t afraid to be critical of others, be judgmental of others, or say rude and ugly things about other people. People talk smack about opposing teams, just because they can. People write mean and hateful tweets or Facebook posts, just because they can. People rail against politicians, and berate political candidates, just because they can. When the world seems right and the day is bright, people can be very, very selfish and self-righteous. And prejudice can prevail. I’m not saying it prevails everywhere all the time, but it can prevail. And it can be felt and heard and seen.
We forget to be vigilant. We’re not careful, not watchful. We’re not careful with our words, we’re not watchful over our actions, we’re not vigilant and on the lookout for danger.
However, when deep tragedy strikes, prejudice fades away. Hearts move from selfishness to giving, from pride to humility. When horrifying pictures splash across the computer screen, the TV screen, the smart phone screen, mouths that were speaking strong criticism and judgment suddenly go silent, and eyes that were narrowed with hatred are opened wide with compassion.
We are suddenly vigilant. Opinions don’t matter any more; people’s lives do. Criticisms aren’t important any more, communities matter. Life becomes more real, and we are more careful with what we say, what we do, and how we think. And we are on the lookout for danger in any and all forms.
There’s no talk of racial differences when a community falls prey to a raging flood. Hands reach across muddy waters to rescue those in need, no matter what their skin looks like. There’s no talk of political preference when a community falls prey to a violent tornado. Hands reach in with flashlights and water and first aid to help those who have lost homes in the horror of screaming winds, no matter what their political affiliation is. There’s no talk of LGBT or religious differences when a community falls pray to the evil of madmen. Hands reach out to hold shattered people, when planes fly into tall buildings, and change our lives forever.
Because when deep tragedy strikes, we remember who we are. We are a nation, a people, one, united, all red-blooded, all human, all fragile, all very much aware that life is a gift, and we aren’t guaranteed any certain number of days on this planet. When deep tragedy strikes, we are faced with our own mortality, and our hearts open wide to comfort those who have met mortality face to face through losing a loved one.
We are vigilant.
But to be vigilant, we must remember.
We remember because there is evil in the world. Not all are evil. But some are truly evil, and they cause tragedy of the worst kind: premeditated, purposed, calculated evil that carries not one drop of remorse. Much like Galvatron in the last Transformers movie, they “have no fear.” And why is that? Optimus Prime said it clearly: because they “have no soul.” Their souls are devoid of feeling, so their thoughts are filled with evil continually.
And so, because of those that are devoid of soul and filled with evil, we vow to be vigilant, never to forget. To stand against their wickedness, and to stand for all that is good and right and honorable. To honor those who have fallen in the line of duty, to remember those who were taken from us too soon, to think about our own selves and our own lives and what we’re doing with the time that we have, to see ourselves and our human condition more clearly. We remember, and we choose not to forget. And we determine that it will never happen again. With all that is in our power, we choose to stand vigilant.
But when the days are easy, and the sun is shining, let us still be vigilant. Against the evil in the world, but also against the evil in our own words, and actions, and thoughts. Let us remain vigilant so the we can remain a nation, a people, one, united. Let us never forget that we are all human, all fragile, all red-blooded, all facing a mortality that every one will one day answer to.
Life’s too short to forget.