Seventeen years after the fact, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are still very much alive in our national psyche.
Like most Americans, I remember the exact time and place where I was when I first heard that an airplane had flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. I still have seared in my mind the image of the second airplane crashing into the South Tower, and can still replay the heart-wrenching footage of the towers collapsing.
As we do every year, this September 11 we will grieve collectively as a nation for the nearly 3,000 lives that were lost that day, and we will pray a day like that never again happens in our history.
But as I look back on this dreadful moment in American life, I’m also reminded that amid the painful memories we also have a lot to be thankful for. Here are four things we can reflect on and express our gratitude for on the 17th anniversary of 9/11:
Brave men and women willing to die for the sake of others
God has never ceased to grant us courageous men and women who are willing to put their lives in danger in order to save the lives of their fellow Americans. We live among heroes. These men and women literally live out the example Jesus modeled for us on the cross — “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
On that day, we were reminded that no matter where we stand politically, we are all Americans. We all live under the same flag. When one of us hurts, all of us hurt. This is a timely reminder for us today. During this politically charged time, we need unity more than ever.
On September 11, 2001, more than 400 first responders laid down their lives saving others. Since then, countless other brave Americans have made the ultimate sacrifice here and abroad to protect us from harm. Without them, America would not be the same. We should never cease to thank God for these men and women and to pray for their safety and their families.
The solidarity of Americans
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Americans rallied together. We were deeply shaken, but we were not defeated. We came together as one to comfort and strengthen one another. On that day, we were reminded that no matter where we stand politically, we are all Americans. We all live under the same flag. When one of us hurts, all of us hurt. This is a timely reminder for us today. During this politically charged time, we need unity more than ever.
Security and protection of the United States of America
Despite the painful moments we have lived through as a nation, the fact that we live in a country that’s prosperous, secure and brimming with opportunity is a blessing in and of itself. We should never take it for granted. This is why thousands of Christians across the nation are coming together around this prayer initiative on this 9/11: Praying for the security and protection of the United States of America. Even now when Americans are struggling to come together, we all share the same desire to live at peace, secure and protected in our nation.
Perfect peace in the middle of hardship
John Mahony was a retired U.S. Army colonel who had the habit of saying the Lord’s Prayer every day. He was working on the 19th floor of the North Tower on September 11, 2001, when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building.
Mahony said, “There are thousands of stories from 9/11. Some are stories of pain and survival. Many are stories of heroism. Mine is a story of faith.”
Mahony’s incredible story was documented in a 2012 Religion News Service article.
As Mahony, along with a group of co-workers, struggled down the stairs to escape the chaos, he found himself mentally reciting the Lord’s Prayer and being filled with peace — a peace like the one he felt as a child, wrapped in his mother’s embrace.
“As I walked down that stair, somewhere between the 12th floor and the 10th, somewhere between ‘Our Father’ and ‘Thy will be done,’ that same feeling came over me,” Mahony said. “Suddenly, I was wrapped in warmth, and love, and comfort. In that smoky, wet stairway, in a burning building, surrounded by a thousand frightened people; I felt wonder. I felt God’s peace, and I knew that regardless of the physical outcome, everything would be all right.”
We can thank God that same peace is available to us in Jesus today. Like the psalmist we can say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4).