Friday, September 12, 2008
9.11 - Seven Years Later and Explaining it to Your 2nd Grader - Personal Reflections on today
I wish I had more time to write this, but I have to get back to the real work that is before me. But…today is the seventh anniversary of 9.11. It snuck up on me this year. Two years ago, the 5th anniversary, I had intended to be immersed in 9.11 reflections, but instead had major surgery that day and simply missed out on my and others reflections. Last year I was traveling and awoke in a hotel, grabbed my USA Today from outside my door and realized that it was 9.11. This year, now with two children in elementary school and one in nursery school I knew it was coming, but awoke today with a full schedule, a clogged head, and then was struck. Today is 9.11, the 7th anniversary of one of the most traumatic days of my life.
[Note…al times are approximate…it was seven years ago and it was a day of confusion, not clock watching] Seven years ago I was new daddy. Alethea Natasha Morton had been born just a few shorts months earlier (July 15th). I had adjusted me work schedule so that I went into work at 5am and then Tanya and I exchanged the baby a little after 9. So I was happily unaware of what was happening, working away at my computer. Tanya had just returned to her job after 8 weeks off for maternity leave, and so I was focused to try and get through as much as possible. At 730 my ex-co-worker Cherlynn Moes comes in and asks me what it think, you know, about what is happening in New York. For some reason I thought she was talking about the Mayor’s race. Within two minutes she shared what was happening (as she heard it on the radio) and I tried to look it up on the internet. It just sounded impossible. I figured that there had been maybe some mid-air collision and the planes had then crashed in the WTC towers. How wrong I was.
Our facilities manager, Vern Peterson quickly set up a television. Seeing the coverage and how bad the scene was I called Tanya and told her to turn on the television. Minutes later, I saw the scroll about a crash at the Pentagon. That was it. I called Tanya and told her I was coming home and she should call in sick. On the way home the South tower came down. I was driving over the hill towards our house when they played the audio of the falling towers. I pulled over. It was not possible. Then I sped home and together Tanya and I, with this precious three month old baby between us saw the North Tower fall. Tears, anger, and the realization that our world had changed filled our house.
In the previous couple of years, as I studied liberation theology, the kingdom of God and other areas of developing world theology, I had increasingly been taken by if not leftist ideas, at least those of the strongly social justice orientation had begun to make sense to me. I had even been able to justify for a time what many around me called evil. Yes, I was able to justify evil in the name of social justice. I hate to admit it, but it was true. I voted for Ralph Nader against George W. Bush in 2000 because of his silly comment that he would pay no attention to Africa because it was not in our national interest (to his great credit, President George W. Bush has been a great friend to Africa and a hero in the war on AIDS and corruption in Africa, and he is thusly praised on that continent as this recent article points out
But for me a lot changed that day. For the rest of us, so little has changed. If you are not in the military or with the airlines, your life probably has been very little affected since 9.11. Oh, we grouse now about security checks when we fly (even more so since the 3 oz thing started after the British plots of 2006), but other than that, for most Americans, 9.11 was one very very bad day that we commemorate but that did not change our view of the world.
But for me it did. It reminded me that evil is very real. That the oppressed will, given the first chance they have, become the oppressor, the killer, the villain. Never again was I able to justify evil because of repression (this site includes a number of theological justifications for war, what is called just war theory, and I hold to this, but war against civilians is never except when they are part of the war effort).
Some say that 9.11 is the day they became conservatives. It is certainly the day that I remembered the doctrine of original sin. My politics have been changed by 9.11. And by having children. But my theology has gained the clarity that the depths of evil in this world help bring. I still have great concern for the oppressed of the world. I give, I pray and I write (which is all I can do in my current life and without a greater particular calling from God), but I no longer justify their worst actions. I no longer play the game of moral equivalence. That is what 9.11 did for me.
This year by daughter is 7. Makes it easier to remember how many years since the attacks. It was her that really made me reflect today. Today they discussed the evens of 9.11 in her class. I guess they figure that 2nd graders are old enough to start to look at the most important historical event of their young lives. And so today we watched a special on History Channel The Day the Towers Fell. It was filled with many horrific images, but my daughter wanted to know. She said she needed to know. And it was like being back in 2001 all over again. The Towers, the planes hitting, the fires, the towers falling, the clouds of debris, the salvage work. And there she was, just like that day seven years ago, sitting beside me. Her world has only known war, security lines, and military families at church and school sending mommies and daddies off to Afghanistan, Iraq and points elsewhere.
I don’t know what else to say aside from being a father in a post-9/11 world means thinking about more than simply what shoes she should wear to school today. It means teaching her about evil. It means teaching her to pray for her enemies and to pray for countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, and for the kingdom of God to come to their lands. It means having to sit with her and watch the images of that horrific day.
9.11 was a horrible day, but it is now part of our national identity and part of my own identity. I pray for my country on this day that it would be an agent of justice and peace in the world, and that it would choose to the do the right thing, even when it is hard (like staying in Iraq so they can have democracy and in Afghanistan so that women might have opportunities in the future) rather than the easy thing.
...By the way, if you have the chance to catch it on History Channel, their new show, 102 Minutes is excellent, even though it focuses only on New York City. It reminds us of the chaos. Perhaps that is the lasting image for me of that day and of evil itself...chaos.
God bless all those families that 7 years on still feel the void of their loved ones.