NEVER FORGET: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama observed a moment of silence this morning on the South Lawn of the White House to mark the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/Newscom)
By the time more than a decade has gone by, most national calamities have faded intohistory, events to be marked but no longer acted upon. It’s different with 9/11.
The Islamic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, still influence the United States’ politics, animate its military and fill its travelers with rage and chills. After sweeping commemorations on the 10th anniversary, the expressions of sadness and soul-searching have barely receded on the 11th anniversary today.
The occasion continues to challenge the nation.
The big challenge remains to be united, not divided, by the tragedy.
One way to use the moment as an inspiration for better things is to follow the suggestion of a Newport Beach-based group to make each Sept. 11 “a day of charitable service and doing good deeds.” The nonprofit organization MyGoodDeed promotes the idea, and says millions of Americans participate each year.
The roots of 9/11 Day are nonpartisan. It has been supported by President George W. Bush and President Obama, and its founders, David Paine and Jay Winuk, were spurred by the loss of Winuk’s brother Glenn, an attorney and volunteer firefighter who was among the 3,000 people killed in the World Trade Center.
The website 911day.org has information, including how to sign up for local volunteer efforts (which don’t necessarily require volunteers to be available today).
For the families who lost loved ones, the memory of 9/11 is acute every day, and they deserve special consideration on the anniversaries.
With that in mind, the directors of the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum decided that this year’s ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center would not include speeches by politicians but instead would feature only a reading of victims’ names by relatives.
Naturally, the effort to rid the largest 9/11 commemoration of politics has drawn charges that the organizers are playing politics in retaliation for some New York-area elected officials’ criticism of the memorial foundation.
This points up the difficulty of unlinking 9/11 and politics.
While that memory no longer dominates voters’ thoughts, a poll showed 37 percent of voters still consider terrorism and security to be “extremely important” issues in the presidential election, not too far behind the 54 percent who give the economy and jobs such marquee billing.
Thus, earlier today Obama participated in a memorial service at the Pentagon and held a moment of silence at the White House. Mitt Romney will speak at the annual conference of the National Guard. The tug of war over the legacy of 9/11 continues.
The attacks can hardly be compared with any other national tragedy and scandal. But it is worth noting that the direct and emotional effects of many historical events had passed by the 11th year after. Think of the resonance of the John F. Kennedy assassination by 1974, the Watergate scandal by 1985, or the Challenger shuttle explosion by 1997.
Sept. 11, 2001, though, continues to reverberate on Sept. 11, 2012. It continues to move and challenge Americans. For those motivated to rise above the politics of the moment, calls to service such as 9/11 Day offer a way.
Reprinted from The Los Angeles Daily News, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. Used by permission of Newscom.
As I watched countless groups of white kids invade our inner-city neighborhood to do “missions,” I grew to depise the idea of “drive-by” urban missionaries. But years later, God gave me a new perspective. How I learned to love short-term missions.
When my caroling group gave the desperate man a helping hand, we were proud of ourselves. We expected gratitude. We thought someone begging on the street would be thankful for our holiday kindness. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
O come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant …
It was a chilly December night in downtown Chicago, and about a dozen of us from a suburban Christian college were Christmas caroling. My best friend, Uriel, stood next to me as we sang. A few people stopped to listen.
… O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem, Come and behold him …
A black man edged closer as we sang. He seemed to eye me, the only African American in our group. His head nodded in rhythm with the melody.
… O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord!
“Say, brother,” he said, approaching me as the song ended, “would you please help my family? We ain’t got no money and my baby needs formula.”
He was probably in his 20s, but his tired and ragged appearance made him look much older. “Please, man. I need to get us some food.”
I glanced at the others in my group. We knew the safest response was to politely refuse. Yet we were Christians. Weren’t we supposed to help needy people?
“Would you please help me?” the plea came again. “Just a few dollars.”
I looked at Uriel.
“We can’t give you money,” we finally said, “but we can buy you what you need.” If the guy was telling us the truth, it was something we had to do.
“My name is Jerome,” he told us as we hiked toward a nearby convenience store. He lived in a city housing project with his wife and three kids. As we entered the store, I noticed that his eyes seemed to brighten. Maybe we’d brought a little hope into his life.
Soon we’d bought him baby formula, eggs, and milk. This seemed a fitting conclusion to our evening of caroling.
As we handed Jerome the groceries and bus fare, I noticed his eyes had darkened into an frightening stare. “You think you better than me, don’t you?” he said. “You all think you somethin’ ’cause you come out from the suburbs, buyin’ food for the po’ folks, but you ain’t no better than me.”
“No …” I struggled to find more words, but nothing came. I realized there was nothing I could say that would change his mind.
After a moment of awkward silence, Jerome grabbed his bag of groceries and walked away. Then he suddenly turned and said sharply, “Merry Christmas.” It was not a warm wish, but a condemning statement filled with broken pride.
The December air blew colder. No one said a word.
There wasn’t anything to say. Our holiday spirit had suddenly evaporated, and there was no way to bring it back.
We might have resented Jerome and felt justified. But was he wrong? We gave him a gift. He accepted it. Should there have been anything more?
That’s sort of how it was at the first Christmas. Jesus wasn’t born a helpless baby for applause. Years later, he didn’t hang on the cross for the praise and adulation — many of those he died for made fun of him. Still, he gave selflessly and unconditionally. So, why had we expected gratitude and warm fuzzies for our gift to Jerome?
Strangely enough, Jerome gave us something far better than another opportunity to feel good about ourselves. He made us look hard at our motives and gave us a sobering lesson on the real reason for giving.
We were expecting a pat on the back. Jerome reminded us of what the true reward of Christmas is all about.
This is a developing thought process for me, so please hear me out for a moment. In the heat of the current battle over health-care reform in America, it does seem inevitable to many of us that the federal government will continue to grow.
I don’t think there is an example of a democracy that has “un-done” growth. After all, it is the nature of a living thing to want to grow. This, of course, is at the heart of our nation’s present debate. How much of a role should government play in our lives? The conservatives classify big government as “doomsday coming” and proof of societal decline. The liberals, on the other hand, see the expansion of federal programs as a fulfillment of the government’s obligation to its people. But here is another take …