Candace and I watched multiple documentaries over the past week about 9/11, including a candid and splendid interview with President George W. Bush. From the vantage point of my 12th grade web-design class, I could not have imagined the magnitude of devastation or the depth of evil that would forever mark that day.
But ten years later, it is the bravery, courage, and sense of community that is most striking. The evil was great, but good came out of it. Just as God turned the evil intended by Joseph’s brothers into good for His chosen people (Gen. 50:20), the schemes of hate and terror have not prevailed over the bonds of unity they created.
In a previous post, I considered what it takes to create real unity. I made the argument that it is deeply held beliefs that create lasting unity and that common unity leads to community.
If common, deeply held beliefs create the foundation or building blocks for unity, perhaps it is poignant experiences that create lasting community. In the days following 9/11, Americans bonded together. The most tangible example of this is probably the thousands of firefighters, first responders, and rescue workers that gathered at ground zero to find survivors. People who had never met worked together, sacrificed, and fought to rise above the evil we all experienced.
On one of the few sites I regularly visit, Jonathan Merritt writes in an article titled “Ten Years From Normal” for Q: Ideas for the Common Good:
“Americans shed individualism in the days following 9/11. Institutionally, we began tearing down the walls that separate national intelligence agencies from themselves and local law enforcement. Within communities, strangers joined together to give blood, mourn, and pray. The latter would not last, but the lesson remains: communication and collaboration is critical to both averting and weathering life’s calamities.”
What sticks out about Merritt’s comments to me, and what I’ve been trying to take away from the community-catalyzing event that 9/11 was, is that after tragedy, isolation is not an option. The walls that we’ve built around ourselves get torn down, and we intuitively know we need each other. Tragedy is the most poignant experience in human life. While some may want to be alone after tragedy, they must engage with others eventually in order to cope and move on. Indeed, tragedy makes us stronger. 9/11 did not make America weaker. It made America stronger, more resolved, more prepared, and less individualized.
Given what we’ve just discussed, what more tragic event could there be than the brutal and barbaric execution of the most fully human, fully God man upon the most fully in-human and divinely absent cross? For those who consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ, the cross is the tragic event that tears down the man-made walls of isolation. In this, and in this alone, do we have ever-lasting unity and community not only with one another but with our Creator.
In December 2003, I had the opportunity to travel to New York City to engage some of the homeless in innocent conversation while passing out food. It was freezing, and it snowed 8 inches in about 4 hours. It was difficult to see much further than about a block in front of us, but we toured the city that day anyway.
Just 2 years and 3 months after the towers fell, I was standing at ground zero, gazing at the massive hole in the ground. Debris was everywhere within the blocked off border. It was difficult to make out much of anything, especially with the heavy snowfall. But, the most incredible image came into view. Perhaps it has taken me these 8 years to formulate my thoughts on the significance of it.
There, in the middle of all the tragedy was a reminder of the most tragic event in human history: the death of the Son of God.
And yet, it was left there as a symbol of hope. Why? Because tragedy like the cross brings us together. Because it dismisses social boundaries and causes us to form new friendships. Because it stirs within us a renewed vigor to search for meaning and truth. And because evil doesn’t get the final word. Jesus Christ is not dead. This is our hope. And whether people know it or not, God’s story of redemption, of rebuilding, is so ingrained into our very souls that when a steel beam cross appears in the rubble of evil, we take our stand at the foot of it.