I was a junior in college, just waking up to head to the University of Portland. My alarm went off at 6am, and instead of being woken by some monotonous pop song, I was awakened to a radio DJ pleading for people to head to the Red Cross to give blood, followed by him saying, “I just can’t believe this is happening. Those poor people.” I remember thinking that was very strange, and jerked the covers off. I went across the hall to my den, and turned on the tv….and like the rest of the country, couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
I headed to class, and remember sitting through my World Lit class thinking, “There are much more important things than the symbolism in Billy Budd right now.” When the bell rang, instead of heading to my next class, I went home. I emailed one of my favorite professors that I had a class with later in the day and told her I just couldn’t be at school – telling her my mind just wasn’t there. She emailed back telling me not to worry, and that hers wasn’t either.
My mind was numb….as I felt waves of concern and compassion wash over me along with helplessness and futility. I wanted to act. I wanted to help. And all I could do was pray. Pray and watch. Watch and pray.
Later that night, I headed to our church college group. I didn’t last long there either, before heading home with one of my best friends. In a haze of grief, completely overwhelmed by what was happening- we zoned out. We selected one of the most mind-numbing movies ever made and tried to escape…if only for 90 minutes. On this day, I felt small – inconsequential – incapable.
Fear and loss have a way of incapacitating us. Grief prevents us from feeling capable. We begin to question if we have the ability to move forward – to exist – to help – to add value to the world. Days like 9/11, or the day the Katrina hit, or the day Sandy Hook was attacked – we feel helpless. We see terrible and unspeakable things happening around us, and it feels huge. We struggle to wrap our brains around what is happening – and reaching out and helping, can feel out of our grasp. We allow the enormity of the situation overtake us, and do what I did this day….check out.
(Praise God!) 9/11 doesn’t happen every day. I remember thinking how far removed I was from the situation that day. Sitting here on the West Coast, I’m about as far away from New York as you can get. And, it’s easy to feed into that type of mentality today. We begin to think, “A tornado hasn’t hit my town,” or “We haven’t faced a terrorist threat”, so I don’t need to do anything. BUT, look around you. Children are hungry. Families are struggling. People are dealing with addictions, depression, and other illnesses. Tragedy is all around you….and you don’t need national news coverage to find it.
You know what I remember about 9/11? I remember the people of New York, and the people of our country coming TOGETHER. We united. We ACTED. We got involved. We put aside our differences and worked towards a common goal. If everyone had frozen or checked out, so many more lives would have been lost that day. If people had fed into the belief that the problem was just too big for them to help with – think about how different things would have been. But, people came together and did SOMETHING. They did what they could.
So today, as you see the posts about 9/11 in your news feed, and watch the stories and recaps on tv, yes- stop and remember this day. Pray for the families of the victims. Hug a firefighter. Pray for our nation, our leaders, and our safety. But, I also want you to use today as a reminder to do SOMETHING. Find a need and meet it. No, by yourself you won’t be able to end homelessness, remove the stigma from the mentally ill, or feed every child who is hungry, BUT, you have the ability to act. You have the ability to help. You can add value. You can do something. See a need, meet a need. Reach out, join in, and get your hands dirty.
Donate. Give blood. Volunteer. Collect food. Befriend the friendless. Love the unlovable. Tutor a child. Visit a shut-in. Reach out. Join in. Act. Together, our small acts can accomplish great things. Let the reminder of this day, serve as a catalyst for action. Let today push you towards service. In honor of the men and women who gave their lives this day – find one way you can give a part of yours to others. Reach out. Meet a need. Never forget.