Today, I pause to remember, though memories have been seeping through all week.
Some posters say “Never Forget,” but sometimes our memories are short. Names may just be engravings, belonging to someone else. Until we reflect on our own parents, partners, spouses, siblings, children, relatives, friends, and associates. In an instant, we see all humanity in those names.
I see them, too.
I close my eyes and see again the early morning view of the Statue of Liberty, the Twin Towers on the horizon, as I approach my exit on the New Jersey Turnpike. And then, within an hour, I am witnessing, from my classroom window, billows of smoke and flames, my students’ faces streaming with tears.
I reflect on that day, the time, surreal hours of numbness and disbelief.
So much can happen in a day. How much more in twenty years.
One way leading to another, step by step, year by year.
Twenty years. A generation. For some, barely a lifetime.
Yet, we all have our reflections. And in those reflections, I wonder how far we see. Have we taken two steps forward and three steps back? When we view the road map of our journey, where are the mile markers? What wisdom have we gained? What still gleams in those reflections?
As I reflect, I see that everything I have done since that fateful day has led me where I am now: a journey which took me from New Jersey, to Missouri, to Michigan, to Florida, to Georgia.
I see what remains and what was left behind, remembering every year when this day comes around, where I was, who I was, then. An untenured, high school English teacher who would have scoffed at the notion that one day she would be a minister who teaches and preaches about faith, divinity, and the presence of God — God, which is unconditionally loving, infinitely compassionate, all good, all the time, everywhere present, even when airplanes crash into towers.
And as I reflect, I remain faithful, filled with hope.
I do not forget the tragedies of that day. But my reflections do not linger there. Instead, they turn to God, God in the midst of that day:
in the ferry driver who refused to cross the Hudson River when he saw the first burning tower and subsequently saved hundreds of lives.
in the Ground Zero teams who dug through rubble until they could no longer breathe.
in the final-minute-“I-Love-You” telephone calls and messages.
in my colleagues’ camaraderie and collaboration, and the lessons we transformed from World Lit, Algebra I, and A.P. U.S. II into comfort, patience, and understanding.
in the man who worked on the 79th floor and carried his boss, on his back, to safety.
in the woman who fed hungry people huddled, waiting, along her street.
in the commuters who drove strangers home in the wee, small morning hours which became September 12th.
And that is where our vision must turn, where I place my hope.
Not on the 11th, but on all the following days, to how we choose to live now, in the shimmer of those reflections, as we navigate a worldwide pandemic and reflect on this precious gift of life,
so the ashes fertilize a new generation’s future,
so the rubble constructs stronger foundations,
so the pain powers non-violent movements of peace, justice, and equity,
so the fires fan flames of service which flow throughout our country and into the world, the heartfelt desire to extend a gracious hand, pull another chair up to the table, fill an empty plate, heal an open wound, or mend a broken heart.
so our actions are not only thoughts and prayers but egalitarian efforts to transform those systems and structures established on shaky ground.
Today, however we reflect, may we see, even in the face of tragedy, that God is always with us and within us. May we behold the radiance of our humanity, recognizing within ourselves and one another the wonder and beauty of God’s reflection, the divine essence within us all. With every step we take on the journey ahead, may we be filled with hope. And may that hope be a beacon reflecting a lifetime of brighter days ahead, wherever the next twenty years may lead.
© 2021 – Rev. Jennifer L. Sacks – All rights reserved.