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September 11—A Reflection

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

September 11. A date that now lives in infamy in the United States (and worldwide) due to the 2001 terror attacks that killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Many Americans who were alive that day can still tell you where they were when the first tower was hit…when the second tower was hit. Over the next few days, weeks, months I remember pondering the Bible passage above, because our world seemed to be a cacophony of ALL of the seasons mentioned in the passage happening at one time, all vying for our attention.

Our world seemed to be a cacophony of ALL of the seasons mentioned in the passage happening at one time.

How do you honor the lives lost and honor the joy of welcoming a newborn baby into the world at the same time? Was one week really enough time for late night comedy shows to go off the air, or was it cathartic to allow laughter back into our lives during a season of mourning? What was this “War on Terror” going to look like, and could a new war against an ideology—as opposed to past wars that were fought against countries or groups—bring about peace? Do we rebuild the World Trade Center, do we create a 9/11 Memorial, or would it be acceptable to do both?

As time has marched on—as with all major historical moments—people’s views on September 11 and how it impacts their lives today have changed. Some see 9/11 as a distant memory, while others feel like it occurred yesterday. For some, the wounds inflicted by 9/11 have healed; for others the wounds will never heal, and indeed, some continue to have new wounds inflicted upon them 17 years later, as they succumb to a long list of illnesses due to their exposure to the events of that day.

My view of September 11 began expanding in new ways four years ago.

My view of September 11 began expanding in new ways four years ago. In 2014 I moved to Italy as a missionary for the Reformed Church in America, where I worked primarily with migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East.

As I began listening to the stories of our brothers and sisters from various countries in Africa and the Middle East, I was reminded that they too are victims of terrorism. They, too, woke up one day and saw their lives shatter as beloved buildings in their communities tumbled, and as they watched friends, colleagues, neighbors, and family members die at the hands of terrorists. They bear the physical, emotional, and spiritual scars of terrorism, and many of them will never be able to return home. They fled to neighboring countries where they were not welcomed. They traveled through many dangerous countries and across the Mediterranean Sea until they finally reached Italy.

I was reminded that they too are victims of terrorism.

Many have been accused of being terrorists themselves, an accusation that causes additional pain to those already traumatized by terrorism. During my time in Italy, I still remembered the price the United States paid for terrorism on September 11, but I added a time of prayer for those who are victims of terrorism worldwide.

In 2016, I had the honor of welcoming Adel, a Syrian refugee, and his family to Italy through a refugee resettlement program. At the beginning of the program we decided it was fundamental to celebrate birthdays for every participant of this program, to add moments of joy in the midst of much pain and suffering, and in thanksgiving that they had survived the war in Syria.

I realized that Adel’s birthday is September 11.

As I compiled a list of birthdates for the participants and began writing them down in my calendar I realized that Adel’s birthday is September 11. September 11 had once again taken on a new significance in my life, and as I remembered the events that took place on 9/11 in the United States and as I prayed for victims of terrorism worldwide, I also began celebrating the birthday of Adel.

In July 2018 my family completed our time of service in Italy and moved to a beautiful community on Long Island (New York) named Manhasset. Manhasset is a community that was deeply impacted by the events of September 11, 2001. As the author of this Los Angeles Times article writes:

For generations, this small town 17 miles east of Manhattan has straddled two identities. Simple country village, enclave of vast wealth. A cross between "Our Town" and Fat City. Even before F. Scott Fitzgerald romanticized Manhasset and used it as the setting for much of "The Great Gatsby," the town had a reputation as one of those lovely places where the American dream rings true, and often comes true.


Now, Manhasset has a different reputation. Like nearby Garden City and Belle Harbor, Manhasset will always be known as one of those tiny dots on the map that took a disproportionate hit Sept. 11.


Elsewhere in the country, people may be moving forward, gingerly trying to get back to normal. Here, where the loss was so focused, the grief is fading more slowly. In this 350-year-old community, discovered by Dutch cow farmers just before Sir Isaac Newton discovered gravity, residents find themselves, in Fitzgerald's words, "borne back ceaselessly into the past."

This year, on September 11, I will privately reflect on the events of September 11 and attend a candlelight memorial service with others from this beautiful community of Manhasset. I will pray for those who are victims of terrorism worldwide, and add additional prayers specifically for the growing terrorist insurgence in West Africa—I left part of my heart with the many West Africans I met in Italy.

I will again thank God for that he and his family were able to flee Syria safely.

I will also send a birthday greeting to Adel via Whatsapp since I will not be able to celebrate with him in person, and I will again thank God for that he and his family were able to flee Syria safely.

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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