We had hung a dry erase board in our formal living room, on the wall between two front windows.
It was definitely not formal. The living room had become a teaching space for me and my then 6-year-old son.
A kinetic learner, he frequently rolled around on the carpet while listening as I read out loud or covered a topic.
That day I distinctly recall squeaking out numbers and letters across the top of the board, Tuesday, September 11, 2001. How does a soft, smooth tip on a glossy surface scream out with that occasional sharp squeak.
Shortly thereafter the phone rang and my younger brother, who would never call this early on Tuesday, was trying to explain to me our country was under attack.
I was homeschooling my child, I thought. He doesn’t know what he is saying.
He insisted I turn on the TV despite my protests about getting school work done.
I stood in the living room—like people all over the country—mouth open, mind running wild, trying to process the images before me. The second tower was smoking.
I could no longer even follow what my brother was saying, something about a plane crash, but now there were two so it had to be an attack.
Not even 30 seconds before, today’s first grade lesson was the all encompassing imperative.
Now our lives would never be like they’d been before that moment in time.
A line was drawn and we could not ever go back, even though none of us knew it then.
Throughout our lives there are moments like this from which we will never return. At least, we will not ever be the same person again, with the same outlook and the ripple effects only expand exponentially.
We have collective moments like this one.
They have come throughout the years in different ways like when the Challenger exploded. I was in seventh grade and my teacher wheeled the squeaky cart with the TV into our classroom. The unpleasant sound like a precursor to tragedy.
Whether we were alive for them or not, these collective lines are embedded in our history and they encompass assassinations, wars, natural disasters.
Other more individualized moments still carry this collective weight—the death of a loved one, coming to faith, getting married, having children.
When I consider the events and the resulting consequences of the collective moments, it is a scope difficult to adequately reign in.
The day before 9/11, we saw dimly. The day after, there was clarity albeit relatively brief.
What was significant for any one of us the day before, a school lesson, Michael Jackson and Liz Taylor performing, crowds filling Arthur Ashe Stadium for the U.S. Open, President George W. Bush handling a Pop Warner football coin toss, suddenly wasn’t.
Fame became irrelevant. Daily details blended into the background.
An openly evil attack revealed what was now significant—people were willing to give up their lives for someone else.
First responders would walk into a building about to come down.
Passengers would thwart an effort to take more lives, even though it meant ending their own.
Soldiers would be willing to enlist, seek justice, defend.
It was a painfully sharp contrast.
I think that contrast is what lies beneath the most significant events in all of life. There is a death, or a willingness to die so that something more worthwhile will be born, will grow, will change everything.
Faith requires a daily death to self, but ultimately for glory not our own.
Marriage means death to self-absorption. It means willingly giving life to another to hopefully become something more, something better.
Having children is that same process over and over again. Defer, make sacrifices, think more of others to have this work.
This is the real work of this world. The work with real consequence is this that requires sacrifice.
It is a line that can be traced through even the daily events of an often dark world, but we keep taking the steps forward. We keep moving ahead. As we recall the tragedy, may we celebrate what is greater, what we are capable of in the face of evil.
When we remember lives lost, let us find ways to have clarity that unites us while we forge ahead in adversity. These reminders are most valuable when we can see, even if for a moment, what is really important and what we are called to do.