The morning of September 11th, 2001 will forever be etched into my memory. I turned 41 that day, and like most birthdays the day began with thoughts and plans about celebrating that evening with my family. I couldn’t wait. Since it was a Tuesday, I got up early and made my way to our church building to pray with our men’s prayer group. As we finished up, the church staff was just getting in, and someone asked if we had heard about what had happened in New York – we turned on the television and watched in shock and disbelief as we saw the first aircraft hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center and then live footage of a section of the tower engulfed in smoke and flames.
Over the next two hours we saw another plane crash into the south tower, then the Pentagon, and we heard about another flight that had crashed in Pennsylvania. And by mid-morning, both towers had fallen, and 2,977 people had died and another 6,000 were injured. We were devastated … and we prayed fervently. That day, life changed. Needless to say, there was no birthday celebration with my family that night, but instead, hundreds of people flocked to the church for answers, comfort, and to pray. Our nation had been attacked, we as a country had been violated, and people were grappling with what it all meant.
As the days and weeks went on, by the thousands, men and women from every walk of life were moved to join our armed forces. Professional athletes traded their jerseys for military uniforms. Many sacrificed their careers and some their lives. Police Officers, Firefighters, and all First Responders were commended for their bravery and were praised and celebrated as heroes. Patriotism was alive and well, and we were all banded together by a common cause.
So, what has changed? We have. We have forgotten. Over the last 19 years our memories have faded, many have moved on, and most high school and college students today were not yet born or were so young that they have no memory of this tragedy at all. Memorials have been built, but if we don’t emphasize their importance, or teach about them to our children, how will we not simply forget?
God knows the importance of setting up memorials. Reminders. ‘Standing Stones’ for us to point to and remind us, so we can teach our children their meaning. In Joshua 4:5-7, God’s Word says:
“And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
There is a quote credited to Spanish philosopher and writer, George Santayana. He wrote this: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." On this 19th anniversary of 9-11, with the lack of unity and unrest in our nation, when our kids and grandkids ask us a question similar to ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ – what will we tell them? Let’s take this opportunity to teach them about how even in the midst of great tragedy, God moves miraculously. And let’s recall with them that for a brief time in 2001, we were all united together in a common cause and remembered who we were created by God to be – ONE NATION, UNDER GOD, INDIVISIBLE, WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL … including all around our world who were being oppressed.
Father God, we want to be a people who remember You. You Who are God Almighty, Who supernaturally intervenes in the affairs of man. Lord, set us up as living memorials and give us opportunities today and throughout this week, to remember, and to tell our stories about 9-11, lest we all forget.
Dion Elmore is a former pastor, and now serves as the Vice-President of Communications with the National Day of Prayer Task Force