Here it is, 0426 CST on another September 11th. In a three hours and twenty minutes, it’ll be exactly sixteen years since American Airlines Flight 11 flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and our lives were changed forever. That day sparked a lot of fear, anger, and even hatred. We’re still reeling from the effects of it today, and it has brought out the worst in our culture.
But that day also brought out the BEST in our culture. Alan Jackson’s signature song, “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning” went a long way to highlight just how good our best could be. Even now, the thought of 9/11 moves people to “notice the sunset for the first time in ages and speak to some stranger on the street”, “stand in line and give your own blood”, or “dust off that Bible at home”.
We’re still prone to the same evils that we’ve always been prone to, but we’ve proven that we CAN listen to our better angels, and in so proving, we’ve left ourselves without excuse. That’s one of the many reasons it breaks my heart to see the crap that goes on today — the division that the media and politicians capitalize on, the race baiting, the racism of those who hate and the RESPONSIVE racism of those who are hated.
We’re sixteen years older as a nation — some of our number are LITERALLY sixteen, having grown up with the better AND worse angels of their elders, but never having lived through an event like 9/11 themselves, with all the bad and good that can come of it.
So maybe it’s fitting that, on the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11, we have Hurricane Irma cutting a path of devastation through the larger part of Florida, just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey did the same thing through Texas. We don’t “deserve” this — not any more than we deserved 9/11 — but it’s fitting all the same.
And once again, we’re seeing the worst of our culture — looters taking advantage of the DISadvantage of business owners, hatemongers reveling in the suffering of others and declaring the hurricanes “justice” for one asinine reason or another, and so on.
But we’re also seeing the best of our culture, as people of character once again step up to the plate and lend their strength to others, often at great personal expense. You’ve got people braving flood waters to rescue total strangers. You’ve got churches organizing relief efforts. You’ve got people reaching through their fear and anger to lend a hand to people that MIGHT NOT do the same if the roles were reversed. My own cousin is en route to Florida right now, hauling a trailer and picking up supplies from donors along the way.
Today, sixteen years after the hatred of a handful of men shocked the world, we’re being struck again. The nature of the struggle is different, but the people who respond to it are the same — ordinary folks, being pushed off the fence and out of their facades to show the world what they’re really made of. Some will be shining examples of heroism. Others will be stains on our culture that we will forever wish we could scrub away.
And amongst it all we will have a generation, too young to pick their own side, but not too young to watch us pick ours. In the days and weeks to come, may it be that the greater portion of us will follow our better angels.