What were you doing the morning of September 11, 2001? Still sleeping? Sipping coffee? In the middle of quiet reflection time? Rushing out to work or driving kids to school? Had you tuned in to the morning news? Were you watching the south tower of the World Trade Center go up in flames, wondering what caused such a tragic accident, only to see a second plane slam into the north tower and realize that someone had planned this horrible nightmare?
Was, "Oh my God" all you could think to say? Oh, my God. Interesting that our thoughts seem to go quickly to God when anything is beyond our understanding. A devastating loss. A miraculous birth. Illness. Healing. Joy. Grief. As if attributing the big things to God makes them easier to bear. At least somebody is strong enough to hold this situation.
Then we try to grasp some little piece of it. "Do I know anybody who may have been in the buildings?" "Is my step-brother's niece's mother-in-law flying home today?" Just like we focus on a newborn's ears being the spittin' image of Uncle Fred's, we need to take a small bite because we know we can't ingest the enormity of what has happened. God said that seeing his/her face would be too much for us, and we know that to be true.
Once we had assigned God's part to God and identified with a small, manageable piece, we leaped into action. What can I do? How can I help? We gathered at schools to reassure one another. We skipped work so we could pray or run a donation over to the Red Cross or watch the news with horror as the enormity of the tragedy unfolded, praying, aching for all those lost and all those who loved them. We were overwhelmed with gratitude for heroes, with a need to comfort the grief-stricken. We became the hands of God without even thinking about it, just knowing that we had to act on the intense connection we were feeling.
Michele Obama said in her speech last week that the presidency doesn't change a man's character; it reveals it. She didn't have to say that the presidency is a difficult, impossible, painful, lonely job -- whenever anybody talks about character we know they're talking about dealing with the hard stuff. September 11, 2001, revealed character, of Americans, of families, of charities, children, firemen, family and strangers. But even more, it revealed the character of God. Horrible things happen. Free will and human failings allow no end of pain and loss. And God is always there, holding us up, walking us through the stages of coping, using the worst things in life to reveal the best things in life.
I'll never forget that morning, but the memories aren't all painful. They take me to a vulnerable place deep in my heart, a sober place where I connect with the spirits of lost loved ones and with God, where I feel raw and alive and able to reach outside myself and feel someone else's hurt, or joy, or fear, or loneliness.
How has God been revealed to you in your life's biggest moments?
Please find a quiet moment today to connect with God and, through God, with those personally impacted by the events of 9/11/01.