A Coat of White Primer

At 9:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001, United Flight 175 from Boston crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. And much to our horror, it was captured on live television and broadcast over and over again.

What I didn’t—and couldn’t—know until the next day was that a friend was on that flight.

Her name was Lisa Frost. We were orientation leaders at Boston University in the summer of 1999.

There were so many thoughts that ran through my mind when I got the news. And for months, I had pretty disturbing nightmares about that day—not just about Lisa, but also about the thousands of lives that were lost that day.

Certain images were ingrained in my mind: the makeshift bulletin boards where people posted pictures of their loved ones, desperately hoping someone had news about them; the disturbing image of men and women jumping and falling from the towers to their deaths; firefighters, police, and men and women dressed for work who were ghoulishly covered in white ash after the towers collapsed; and the countless candlelight vigils that were held in churches, town centers, and college campuses across the country and the world that night.

Like so many others, I questioned why all of this happened. The manifestation of evil we saw that day was just unreal. Even though I consider myself a fairly positive person to begin with, my values were suddenly turned upside down by the events of that day. I echoed the questions many were already asking: Why would God allow something like this to happen (something asked again when the Tsunami hit in December 2004)? Why do bad things happen to good people? Does God just sit on the sidelines, waiting for us to blow each other up into extinction?

Where the 9/11 attacks pushed people away from the divine, they did precisely the opposite for me. The horrific tragedy of that day reminded me of the importance of faith—the implicit trust that despite all the random craziness going on, someone was in control and would make everything all right in the end. Again, that may be considered delusional naiveté by others, but I felt a tremendous catharsis in releasing my confusion, fears, and anger to someone I knew had my best interest in mind.

The outpouring of genuine goodwill following 9/11 was deeply affecting. For days and months after the attacks, people were suddenly and noticeably nicer to each other. It was as if we all experienced a collective re-focus and re-prioritization. It’s too bad that we often need a 2×4 to hit us in the head before we realize what’s truly important.

In the end, we cope with tragedy in different ways. And it’s understandably harder for some than for others. But where some saw futility, like many others, I saw hope. To me, 9/11 showed the unspeakable evil we humans are capable of. But more important, it demonstrated humanity’s tremendous and too infrequently utilized capacity to love each other.

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