The above video was played on VH1 almost every hour on the hour in the days following 9/11. This tribute in particular features footage from that day coupled with the song "Overcome" by the 90's alt band Live. There were of course other beautiful attempts to capture the tragedy, but for whatever reason, this one struck me in particular...
In the past, when I watched this tribute I generally thought about the events of that terrible day and where I was when it all happened. I was in seminary at the time and it was just before breakfast when the towers were hit. At that point in time, I wasn't really sure about the gravity or the nature of the attack- because I had heard everything second hand. Even so, as I went to the chapel to pray, I could hear one of my classmates weeping, and I knew that there was more to this than some unfortunate aviation accident. I wondered if it was the beginning of World War III. Thankfully, my fears were allayed.
This year, however, I watched the footage with a different sense of sorrow. I was not so much moved about something that had happened in the past, but rather moved by something that is going on as we speak. For whatever reason, when I saw those two towers collapse over the weekend, I saw them as representative of all of the division and confusion that seem to permeate our culture. I saw those buildings as the embodiment of our beloved- though painfully divided- nation. I thought of Jesus' words as he wept over Jerusalem; "'If only you knew what made for peace, but even now it is hidden from your eyes... O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who I sent to you, how often I have desired to gather your children together, like a mother hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!"' Luke 19:41-44; Matthew 23:37
Unlike many today, Jesus demonstrates here the substance and source of true patriotism. He is not some moralist demagoguing the misbehavior and misdeeds of the Israelites, nor is he someone who is blind to their apparent weaknesses. He loves Israel for her own sake, and is therefore heartbroken that she seems so bent on destroying herself.
Lest we forget what true patriotism looks like, let us remember how people behaved on that day and the days that followed that tragic attack. Let us remember the men and women that went into those fiery buildings in order to save the lives of people whom they had never met. What healed our great nation was not the ideology of the left or the right, but something that is incredibly rare in our society today; a humbler and quieter spirit, the noble sense that there is something infinitely more beautiful and desirable than self-interest. It was like a tremendous jack hammer cracking the horrible shell of indifference in our society, and for brief moment, men actually remembered who they were meant to be. If we fail to recognize this, then the attack on 9/11- and all that was lost on that morning- will have been in vain. Consequently, we remember not simply because it was tragic, but because it reminds us of all that is at stake. It is not about the evil deeds of some wild-eyed god-forsaken terrorist, but about calling to mind the marvelous unity of our people that shined forth from the heart of that destruction.
But one way or another, we will have to learn this most vital lesson, whether it be through the spirit of true patriotism, or by, as it were, reducing ourselves to smoke and ashes. If we choose the former, it will truly be a joyous and exuberant re-awakening; if we choose the latter, then we will sadly have to come to this knowledge in a most painful way. "For the days are coming when your enemies will surround... and they will not leave one stone upon another." And as we stand amidst the wreckage and rubble of that future Ground Zero, we will finally come to the realization that what held this remarkable structure together in the first place was not merely human ingenuity, but an unassuming, though undeniably essential crossbeam.