Where were you?

September 11, 2022

Michael Swartz

Where were you on September 11, 2001?  It is one of those questions that a generation can answer.

9/11 ranks with December 7, 1941 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor; November 22, 1963 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated (it was a Friday morning in California and I was in Latin Class.)

Lets take about three minutes right now.  Find someone to talk with that did not come to church with you this morning in the same car.  Take turns and answer the question, “Where were you on September 11 when you heard the news about the twin towers?”  And how did you feel?

After 3 minutes:  Any particularly notable memories of that day?

Mr. Rogers instructed us to “look for the helpers.”  “Who do you remember as helpers?”  Take a minute to list some helpers.

After a minute:  Who were some helpers?

My memory of September 11 is that I was in Indianapolis for my mother’s funeral.  In bed listening to NPR.  So the news of the Twin Towers is mixed with becoming an orphan – my dad had preceded her in death.  And the death of parents is a major passage in adulthood.  It is about becoming the older generation.  For me this was a major jolt of “This is your life to live; what are you going to do with it?”

I was married with two children at home, with braces on their teeth, a mortgage, and I was pastor of the Church of Peace.  I remember doubling down on doing the best I could and becoming rather more serious.  The “helpers” I remember were the firefighters and other public servants who did their job with integrity, and sometimes at great cost.  I doubled down on doing my life and my work the best I could, and for me there was really no additional cost.  Only benefit.  And I thought about “duty” a very non 20th century word.

(There is an old joke from the Soviet Union:  “They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work.”  Not unique.  It does not have to be that way.)

How about you?  Did you make any life resolutions in response to 9/11?

Beginning in High School and following at various times I have sung bass in the chorus of Handel’s Messiah.  There is one with the line “and all flesh shall see it together…” and in sequence the four parts enter with that line.

Pearl Harbor, Kennedy Assassination, 9/11 and now the death of Queen Elizabeth II are all media events where just about everyone in the world with radio, television and print media have a common experience.  “And all flesh shall see it together.”  We have a similar experience and varied responses.

Another line in that chorus is “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”  (and the glory the glory of the Lord shall be re-ve-al-id)  Now God knows, there were some very stupid public responses to 9/11 – you’ll have that.  But in addition there were some noble, self-sacrificing responses.  There were the “helpers.”  And those helpers were an inspiration to me to live a better, more purposeful and more worthwhile life, to use the gift of life that was entrusted to me.

I think I hear that same inspiration in the recording of the young voice of Elizabeth at age 21 promising to do her best to do her job and her duty for others, and that also inspires me to ask what do I want to do with the life yet before me – me and Charles are in the same boat with only a limited number of years – but nevertheless, I challenge all of us to do our part to be among the helpers.

Maybe it is too pat, but when we are inspired to double down on being one of the helpers I believe “the glory of the Lord,” is indeed, “revealed.”

Amen and amen.

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