Most of us will never
forget where we were when we first heard the news. But we couldnt
begin to comprehend the magnitude of the disaster. We understood
even less how 9/11 would change America.
Horrifying details were
announced minute by minute. Initial disbelief was gradually replaced
by the dreadful reality that no one, including the planners and
attackers, could have conceived.
Certain images are permanently
implanted in our minds as the television replayed over and
over American Airlines Flight 11 slamming into the North Tower,
the billowing explosion of flame and, possibly the most incredible
scene of all the first massive tower collapsing about an
hour and 20 minutes after the impact.
We can never know how
many experienced death instantly with no anticipation or how many
stood in their offices watching in horror as the jet airliners streaked
toward them. We cant know how many died at their desks
or how many while fleeing down the staircases. They were all lives
with plans and hopes that now could never be snuffed out
in a moment of savage and senseless hatred.
Most who died were helpless.
Others had a choice. Police and firefighters risked their lives.
Many sacrificed them. Children and youth who have never lived through
a war learned about a new kind of hero. No longer were athletes
and pop musicians at the top of the list. Civil servants are paid
far less than celebrities, but gave far more.
Roll! Finding Hope in the Midst of Crisis
with Ken Abraham
here and look for the WANT MORE? link or call 1 800 641
Gradually, we realized
that we could never feel as safe again. Millions of American children
will never know the security we felt before this unprecedented act
of violence. For many Americans, peace is now elusive or totally
When the Berlin Wall
came down in 1989 and when the Soviet empire crumbled, most Americans
who had lived during the Cold War breathed sighs of relief and felt
secure. But the short-lived sense of peace and safety soon yielded
to anxiety. How would we cope with new enemies and a new kind of
A year after 9/11, we
remember those who died and honor more than 300 firefighters and
23 police officers who gave their lives by risking death to save
Our human capacity to
remember is not limited to scrapbooks and boxes of memorabilia.
We have the capability of instantly recalling memories instilled
by the senses the smell of our grandmothers kitchen
or the texture of a blanket in our childhood. We savor some memories.
Some bring joy, others a tear.
I believe the Vietnam
Memorial is the most beautiful in our nations capital. It
is certainly not the grandest. It cant be seen from great
distances like the Washington Monument, nor command the awe of the
Lincoln Memorial. It hasnt the beautiful classical architecture
of the Jefferson Memorial. What it has is the capacity to move people
to somber reverence and tears. And something unique
are a part of the Vietnam Memorial, because, more than any memorial
in Washington, it evokes real memories. Each name carved in marble
can recall a face to a family member or friend. People can be seen
standing, sitting or kneeling at the black marble wall, some gently
touching a name. Fathers and mothers remember sons and daughters.
Some young people remember a father they werent old enough
to know or who left for Vietnam before they were born.
Some things are easier
to forget than others. The war in Vietnam was more recent than World
War II but, for many Americans, is fainter in memory. The Nazi Holocaust
still evokes horror, even for those who were not yet born.
In Bergen-Belsen, Germany,
I walked in silence between mass graves. The only markers were small
white signs reading "400," "800," and other numbers, each indicating
how many unidentified bodies lay beneath the mound of sod. In the
barracks of the Dachau concentration camp, I stood amid the tiny
wooden bunks in which emaciated bodies had lain in orderly rows,
before being taken to the ovens.
On April 6, 1994, tribal
hatred erupted in the small African country of Rwanda, resulting
in one of the worst genocides in history. In 100 days almost a million
dead littered the roads, fields and hillsides.
In an underground crypt
behind a church, I viewed the skulls and bones of more than 5,000
nameless Rwandans. All had been placed respectfully in orderly rows
a stark contrast to the brutal chaos in which these people
died. Villagers had run screaming and dragging their children into
this church for sanctuary, believing no one would kill them there.
But soon stained glass shattered and machine guns protruded through
the windows then opened fire. I imagined 1,200 hearts beating
in frantic terror and then stopping one by one. The victims
who didnt die from the hail of bullets were clubbed or hacked
to death. My head dropped to my chest in an involuntary response
in shock that this could be real.
Worship services never
again will be held there. The church where the massacre took place
is now a memorial site.
The Nazi death camps
were systematic extermination
Rwanda was random butchery.
Both are convincing evidence of the depths of evil to which human
beings are capable of sinking.
The memorials of the
death camps in Germany and of the genocide in Rwanda exist for one
that people not forget these incomprehensible atrocities.
They are mute but telling witnesses to senseless death.
Three weeks after the
9/11 disaster, steel girders, part of one of the collapsed towers,
were found in the shell of 6 World Trade Center. They were standing
upright in the form of a cross about 15 feet tall in a mass of rubble.
The cross was removed
by iron workers and hoisted atop a concrete slab. Rescuers wrote
messages on the cross for those who died or had been working at
Ground Zero. Many have proposed the cross become part of a permanent
memorial. Instead, it has become a center of controversy as the
Organization of American Atheists has protested, claiming that the
use of a cross in a government-funded monument "would violate the
separation of church and state" and "be insensitive to those victims
who had no religious beliefs."