Today marks the eighteenth anniversary of September 11, 2001 – a fateful day in the United States. Even eighteen years later, this is a day where we as a country remember – remember where we were that day, remember the people who were touched by tragedy that day, remember how a single day could transform a nation and the world. This day hangs heavy in our consciousness each year, the weight never quite lifting even with the passage of time.
I think part of why this day is so heavy for us as a people is because of the people this day touched. Certainly, we could look at the death toll, and recall the names of the almost 3,000 people who died that day, most without the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones. But September 11’s reach went beyond those who died. The ripple of that day is mind-blowing: those who were physically injured, those who were bereaved, those who were supposed to be in those buildings and somehow life’s circumstances kept them away, those whose health continues to be poor from living nearby or helping with the cleanup efforts, those who walked for hours fleeing danger, those who made hard decisions that day – some leading to life and some leading to death.
Four years after that fateful day, NPR’s StoryCorps launched their September 11th Initiative. A program built around having people tell their stories, StoryCorps launched an effort to record the stories of that specific day – of the man who traded shifts that day and whose mentor died because he had volunteered to take his shift; of the man who consoled his wailing two-year old and had to wait four months before his wife’s body was finally identified; to the woman who sifted through bones and debris in a hanger months later, trying to help people find closure; to the airline employee who checked in the terrorists that day at the gate; the father who lost both sons, one a firefighter and one a police officer, in the line of duty that day. Every story, every single one is gut-wrenching and tear-evoking. And every one gives a tiny glimpse into the magnitude of the ripple effect this one day had on all of us.
This day, I invite you to honor September 11 with stories. Talk to your neighbors, friends, and strangers about their experiences. Listen to stories like the ones on StoryCorps. Read whatever stories you can find. When we engage in one another’s stories, we engage in honoring the dignity of every human being, something we pledge to do in our baptismal covenant. We allow the depth of this day to do something to us. And somewhere in that intimacy of story, we begin to hear an invitation – an invitation to honor life today. Whether it is an act of kindness (maybe even the kindness of simply asking someone to tell their story), or whether it is a time of prayer to honor all that has been, or whether it is a commitment to reclaiming love so that hatred can never win in such a powerful way as it did that day. May our stories help us connect to the cosmic story of a God who loves us and gives us light in the darkness.