Dear People and Friends of the Diocese of New Jersey,
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed.
Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. Those of us who lived through the events of that day, whoever we are, wherever we were, cannot experience this day without a sense of profound sadness and the deep ache produced by traumatic memories. Those whose loved ones died on that day still experience deep anguish and grief, and especially when the calendar brings this date around again. I imagine that the anguished words of the late great American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay give voice to the feelings of many:
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
This year, the 20th commemoration is also textured with recent images of the fall of Afghanistan, adding to our sorrow, raising questions about the meaning and cost of it all. “Never forget!” many say on this day. Well, we can’t forget, nor should we. But how shall we remember? What is the nature of our remembering? On September 11, hatred and violence collided with love and acts of heroism and compassion. The worst of humanity’s behaviors were countered with the highest human ideals.
Almost exactly a month ago, Susan and I had an opportunity to visit the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stoystown, Pennsylvania. Here passengers and crew members of Flight 93 died when, having learned the fate of other highjacked flights that day, they took courageous action and fought their hijackers, leading to the fatal crash of the plane in the fields of Western Pennsylvania. 1,600 acres of that countryside are now dedicated to remembering these passengers and their heroism.
Visiting the site is a somber experience. A “memorial plaza” leads to the “wall of names.” Beyond the wall is the final resting place of the passengers and crew. There is a courtyard that includes displays telling the minute-by-minute story of Flight 93. A long esplanade marks the edges of the crash site and debris field. The walkway is lined with benches to sit, reflect and pray.
It is inspiring, the story of Flight 93. It is also heartbreaking.
“If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate,” Sandy Dahl, wife of Flight 93 pilot Jason Dahl said after the events of that day. Would that more people would embrace her words. Sadly, 9/11 is often invoked to reinforce fear, hatred, and anger. As Americans, we too often view these events through a narrow lens. The hate-filled acts of 9/11 have resulted in worldwide pain, suffering, and grief. “War is hell,” General William Tecumseh Sherman once observed. Yes, it is.
On 9/11 hell was unleased on the world. But love was not lost. It was present. It was present in the actions of the passengers of Flight 93. It was present in the many acts of heroism and bravery from police officers, firefighters, chaplains, citizens, who acted in love for the sake of others. Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us of this when he writes in a recent pastoral message to the Church:
While 20 years have passed, I also want us to pause and remember the days that followed these tragic events. There was a moment in the aftermath when people came together. We were praying, grieving, and also working together. Because in that moment, however fleeting it was, we knew with immediacy and vulnerability that we need God, and we need each other.
Amen. We do need God and each other. It’s about the triumph of love over hatred, of good over evil. “If we learn nothing else from this tragedy, we learn that life is short and there is no time for hate,” Sandy Dahl said. Amen to that too.
May God hold you in love as we remember the awful events of that day and all that ensued.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
The Right Reverend William H. Stokes
12th Bishop of New Jersey