9-11 + 10
This Tuesday I sat with rapt attention, along with the rest of the student body (you could have heard a pin drop), as Stanley Praimnath recounted his harrowing survival on the morning of September 11, 2001. An associate vice-president with Fuji Bank (which occupied floors 78 through 81 in Twin Towers #2), Praimnath was on the phone in his 81st floor office, when he happened to glance across the space and out a far window. For a split second, he watched a United Airlines jet (“I saw the giant U on the tail of the plane”) hurling at eye level (“I could hear the engines accelerating”) directly toward his office space. In that slow motion instant, Praimnath threw the phone, instinctively diving under a nearby desk at the moment of impact. His world exploded. Choking jet fuel, thick dust, darkness, the floor above him collapsed onto the only desk that withstood its weight—the one he was under. Praimnath’s horrendous ordeal to survive had begun. On this tenth anniversary as the nation pauses to remember, what is it we will collectively recall? We remember the 2,976 victims of this four-site tragedy—the innocent victims in the air and on the ground, the heroic first responders in New York City. We also remember the 3,000 people who, like Stanley Praimnath, survived the infernos but who bear the scars and still relive the nightmare a decade later. We remember all the families who have had to go on surviving without the one they loved about their table. We remember people. We remember the 236 foreigners, citizens of other lands, who perished on September 11. And while we know little about the perpetrators of this crime against humanity, we can only imagine the pain of those families, as well. The truth is September 11, 2001, broke not only ten thousand hearts, but deeply wounded the heart of the Father of humanity. “In all their affliction, He [is] afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). Ideologies, theologies, geo-politics aside, the greatest grief over the human plight still breaks the strongest heart of all, doesn’t it? Christian, Muslim, Jew, pagan—the labels we conveniently affix are in some visceral sense immaterial to him, are they not? Ten years later the statistics keep exponentially mounting. This year relief aid workers estimate that one million men, women and children will die from starvation—in Somalia alone! Nationality and religion and ideology pale before so immense a human loss, so far away from our evening dinner tables. But if not even “two sparrows . . . will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care” (Matthew 10:29), to quote the Master, then how much more do the 2,976 of September 11 and the one million of 2011 matter to him? This weekend it is right that we remember. But let us not take refuge in the remembering. Let us instead transform our memories into proactive, specific responses to the immense human needs all around us. Helping one child in Benton Harbor’s inner city—by joining the street ministry teams at 3 PM today, or by marking your gift in an offering envelope “Benton Harbor”—can turn remembrance into life-changing assistance. Somalia? You’ll never go there. But Benton Harbor—we can make a difference right now here at home. Then their deaths were not in vain. Then September 11’s legacy can yet be one of healing and hope. Stanley Praimnath survived because a stranger with a flashlight came seeking. How many other survivors could there be, if you and I would do the same?