Saturday morning was a typical Saturday at my house. My little girls woke up before I wanted to get out of bed. Reluctantly, I got up too. We played in the den for a few minutes, but before long we were watching one of their favorite movies, Inside Out. When 9:03 am arrived, I had one of my girls snuggled up under my right arm, and one under my left. We were at peace. It was, a perfect Saturday, a happy Saturday. Because it was the 20th anniversary of 9/11 however, my thoughts were drawn to my memories of the horror of that day.
I remembered watching the terror unfold on the tv screen. I remembered seeing the second plane crash into the World Trade Center and realizing this was no accident. Then reports emerged of a third plane crashing into the Pentagon and a false report of a bomb at the State Department hit the airwaves. We were under attack by a foe that intended mass death and mayhem. As I looked back on the terror of that day, I was still struck by the images of those who jumped out of the World Trade Center to avoid being burned alive in the flames. I was haunted by the video of the buildings collapsing into a twisted pile of smoldering metal and rubble. I remember the thick cloud of suffocating white dust that covered the area and the survivors like a pall. I also remembered the courage and honor on display that day from the NYPD and NYFD. They were not alone in their courage. Ordinary Americans stood in line to give blood, gave to social service organizations, and volunteered their time. No horror, no act of terror, could demolish the good in our people on that September morning.
Mostly, though, I thought about my girls. So many of our fellow citizens were robbed of what my children see as normal. Because of the manifest evil of that day, there were children who had no father to wake on a sleepy Saturday. There were husbands whose wives never returned from a conference. There were mothers who now had to parent their young children alone and had to find a way to explain why daddy was not coming home. If it were my girls, I wondered, what would their lives have been like?
9/11 reminds us the world is not what we wish it would be. George Washington in his farewell address wrote, “… I anticipate with pleasing expectation… the sweet undertaking of partaking, in the midst of my fellow-citizens, the benign influence of good laws under a free government…” Washington’s “sweet undertaking” was the dream of our founders, is the expectation of our children, remains the dashed dream of the oppressed, and comprises the primary reason fanatics and would-be tyrants hate us. I wish every man could sit on the couch and enjoy a perfect Saturday with his children. I wish every child could happily enjoy the laughter and love of a family. I wish every human could live freely the life they choose. The world I wish for does not exist, and some would kill to prevent it from existing. Some would kill to impose their religion and ideology on others.
Among the many lessons in 9/11’s rubble it is this: there is such a thing as evil. It is easy to explain evil away by claiming it is the result of bad upbringing, abuse, insufficient education, or twisted ideologies. These explanations, however, are often the result of evil as much as its cause. No, the cause of evil actions is most often a heart bent on evil. The Christian tradition has maintained evil is the absence of good. A heart that can inflict evil on others is a heart without the light of good within it. As hard as it is to accept, there are hearts without good. There are people who have extinguished the light of good from their inner being. Ignoring this lesson of 9/11 invites a repeat performance.