Sept. 11 tragedy was 20 years ago today
September 11, 2021
Psalm 19.1–4 (NLT):
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
Chaplain Joanne Martindale remembers:
On Sept. 11, 2001, I, as well as all the other chaplains and chaplain assistants of the New Jersey and New York Army National Guards were called to active duty.
I was called by my commander. He said your first job today is to go to a school in upper New Jersey and to inform a 9-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl that they lost their mother. I don’t care what seminary you attended; they did not prepare you for this.
At the principal’s office, I saw the children waiting. I saw they were nervous, so I asked them to sit on the floor.
The little girl sat next to me and the little boy across from me. I told them that there had been a horrible event and that their mother was gone. The little girl said that could not be because she had just made a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with her mom that morning.
The little boy said, “How can that be? Now we are without both our parents.” (Their dad had just died unexpectedly in a car accident six months before).
My heart was broken, but I knew there were more.
Next, I went to a home in New Jersey. As I walked up the drive, a woman came out. She yelled, “How many of my three children did I lose, chaplain?”
I called back, “Ma’am, may I come up and talk to you on your porch swing?” She said, “Yes.”
As we rocked on the swing, she asked again, ‘How many children did I lose today?” I said, “Ma’am, I am so sorry, all three.” At that moment, she went limp in my arms, and I held her as she wept for over an hour.
Then she asked, “Chaplain, do you cook?” I said, “Not well; why?” Earlier she had gone to the market and for some reason had bought all three of her children’s favorite foods; now she knew why. She was supposed to cook as she grieved for them.
She led me into her kitchen, covered my dress blues with an apron and together we chopped onions, cried, looked at pictures and made their favorite foods. When her husband came home, I told him of the tragedy. When I left hours later, their home was filled with family and neighbors who surrounded them with love and care.
Loss, tragedy, telling the stories … remembering. That is what we do today. We remember …
Each year on Sept. 11, I call that once 9-year-old boy and 8-year-old girl who learned from me their mother had been killed. Now they are grown adults. They are amazing people.
Several years ago, I met up with them at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. They were helping to lead a conference for those who lost parents at ground zero.
Our spirit as a nation is defined by our innate ability to reach out to help others, even in times of unthinkable crisis and unfathomable odds.
Think about the courage of Flight 93 passengers, who resolved to save the lives of hundreds of innocent victims on the ground. Remember Todd Beamer’s “let’s roll” as the passengers rushed to stop the hijackers. Todd’s wife was pregnant on that Sept. 11.
Our spirit as a people is defined by our ability to move forward in the aftermath of overwhelming loss, even when it seems easier to quit.
Our spirit as a community is defined by our ability to rebuild — stronger and more united in purpose.
The memorial we can leave to the thousands of innocent lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001, is the living of our faith. We can eschew the hatred and bigotry that motivated the attackers and instead seek love and acceptance of all God’s precious children.
May our memory of the lives lost spur us on in the pursuit of true peace and happiness and full freedom and justice for all.
Chaplain Joanne Martindale is a minister of the word and sacrament serving as a chaplain in the Department of Veterans Affairs. She is also a career Army chaplain serving in the reserves with the rank of colonel.
Today’s Focus: Remembering September 11
Let us join in prayer for:
Let us pray
God of peace and mercy, help us remember and help us learn.
On this day, 20 years after the tragedy we know as 9/11, help us remember those who died; their families and loved ones; those who helped by seeking the living among the dead; those whose lives were changed in their response to the challenge; and in remembering may we be moved.
May we be moved to serve you more fully and know that each day we have is a gift.
May we be moved to better recognize each soul in your creation is precious in your sight and is fully deserving of honor, acceptance and love.
May we be moved to better our nation that we learn to seek good in the face of evil and truth over lies.
Thank you, covenant Lord, for remembering us as you bless each new day with hope and promise.