If you’re connected to social media in any form, I’m sure you’ve seen, and maybe even posted, messages regarding today’s anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most of these messages I’ve seen are centered around one central theme: “Never Forget.”
And it’s true, there are many things about that day we should never forget. We should never forget the innocent victims of those horrific events. We should never forget the families and communities whose lives were wrecked by acts of senseless hatred. We should never forget the sacrificial love of the brave responders who saved so many lives and of the many who paid the ultimate price in attempting to do so. We should never forget how we came together as families, communities, and as a nation to seek and offer comfort.
But maybe there are some other things we need to forget about that day. Maybe we need to forget the anger and the hatred we felt as we watched the footage of the WTC towers collapsing being aired over and over again on our TV screens. Maybe we need to forget our desire for revenge, and our seemingly bottomless need for continuing retribution. Maybe we need to forget the fear we experienced in those days and weeks following the attack—a fear that in many ways continues to fuel our collective national psyche.
Maybe we need to forget the idea that we should respond to violence and hatred with more violence and hatred.
In the Sermon on the Mount, as recounted in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells his listeners that if they want to experience forgiveness, they first have to offer forgiveness. I think a lot of times we forget that, especially here in America, where we’ve conditioned ourselves to believe that individual rights are our most precious commodity. We want to offer forgiveness on our terms, and hold on to grudges that seem to suit us, or that give us the illusion of maintaining control over our situations and circumstances.
I’ve heard people say they could never forgive those who carried out the attacks of 9/11/01. And that’s certainly easy to understand. It was a brutal, senseless attack on innocent people. Our initial reaction of anger and fear was both natural and human.
But now, more than a decade down the road, I wonder if it’s not time for us to start letting go of some of that anger and fear. Maybe it’s time we took a hard look at what the real cost of our reaction has been. Not just the astronomical monetary cost, nor even the unfathomable cost of human life on all sides of the so-called “war on terror,” but the cost of the erosive effects of revenge heaped upon revenge, the cost of innocent lives wiped out in the sublime name of “collateral damage,” the cost of distrust between neighbors of different races and faiths, the cost of our children’s innocence as they witness the continuing fury of our righteous indignation. These are the costs of our very souls.
I’m not saying any of this is easy. In fact, I recognize that it is incredibly difficult. But the road to real peace has to be worth it. It has to be worth us saying we can let go, that we can forgive, that, in some ways, we can even forget. It has to be worth it to say we genuinely want a better world…not just a world where our self-awarded “rights” are protected, but where justice is ruled by mercy and fear is replaced with love. Not just a world where we fight for our liberty and lifestyles, but for real freedom—the kind of freedom that isn’t won by the bloodshed of soldiers, but that is the enduring and timeless gift of the Divine. The kind of freedom that overcomes the momentary—albeit often horribly painful—circumstances of this life. The kind of freedom Jesus proclaimed when he told his followers that it wasn’t enough to love their friends, but that they must also love their enemies. The kind of freedom he willingly died for while forgiving those who carried out his sentence—who, by the way, almost surely thought they were ensuring their own peace and freedom by eliminating a radical revolutionary.
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I have tremendous honor and respect for those who have put their lives on the line in countless ways to protect our security and to try to ensure that something like the attacks of 9/11/01 never happen again. But let’s never confuse security or even liberty with real freedom. The kind of freedom that only God can grant through God’s grace and mercy.
So maybe it’s time for us to forget. At least some of it. Because until we do, we will continue to live in bondage to our own fear and hatred. It’s hard. But it’s not impossible. And, in the end, it’s worth it.
Edit: I’d like to note, I wish I knew who to credit for the photo I used with this post. I saw it on a friend’s Facebook page and was captivated by how poignantly it captures the full range of emotions both past and present. If anyone knows the originator of this image please shoot me a message so I can credit it properly. Thanks!