On September 11, 2001, the morning light peeked through the small window in my room and reminded me that I was late for class. I jumped out of bed and tripped over my roommates’ five-foot pile of dirty laundry. As I stumbled to the ground choice four-letter words came from my mouth. I didn’t know it then, but this heart-wrenching day would squeeze from me more emotions (and more expletives) than I ever thought possible. I hurried across campus to the building where my class was held and was greeted at the door by my professor, tears streaming down his face.
He said, “There will be no test today. Something terrible has happened.”
He pointed to the television bolted to the wall and I watched the planes crash into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. I sat stunned. Black billowing smoke surrounded my heart. Over the next few days, I would see those images hundreds of times.
I wanted to be like Master Yoda from Star Wars and stop American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 77 from crashing into those towers and the Pentagon. I wanted to be like the Hulk and stop those buildings from collapsing. More than anything I wanted to stop those innocent people from dying and those families from suffering such loss. I wanted to be like those courageous fire fighters and police officers that stepped into hell and showed us all a glimpse of heaven. I daydreamed about enlisting and tracking down the forces of Al Qaeda in my proud uniform, American flag displayed, gun in hand. I wanted to be Superman, or maybe even one of Charlie’s Angels, and get the bottom of it all so that this tragedy could have a good ending. But I am not a Jedi Knight, nor do I possess any super powers. Most days I’m just barely above average.
But that day, my prayers, like the beating of my heart, grew more fervent.
I wanted to help but didn’t know how, so I called my mom. I told her how much I loved her. I called my brothers. I called my entire family. I worked my way down my contact list and talked to friends and family that I hadn’t talk to in years. My heart was a reconciliation factory: pumping out and receiving forgiveness for wrongs that had clogged up relationships for years. Could this heart attack on America possibly open a new way forward for our nation?
Dark billowing clouds would not leave without a battle. The worst kinds of racial epithets resurfaced and were pumped through our bodies by the media affecting the nation. As the cry for revenge grew, military plans were set into motion and I was once again stunned. Bombs fell and more lives were lost. Fear like a vice grip entrapped many hearts.
As I think about 9/11 exactly fifteen years later I wonder if there isn’t a better way forward than more bullets, bombs, and war. I wonder if the time for a new kind of American superhero is here. The stunning sacrifice of the firefighters and many other public servants will never be forgotten. But can our hearts once again hear that ancient challenge from the dusty streets of Galilee? Can we channel our energy and passion, our restlessness and rawness, and learn to “love our enemies” and “pray for those who persecute us?” (Matthew 5:43-44) I know that many will dismiss this suggestion as too idealistic, too romantic, or just flat out naivé. Most days, I don’t really want to love people who have caused harm to me. But as I flip through the pages of my history book, I see the spiral of violence that visits every nation. I’m far too familiar with the evil seeds of bitterness and blame that fester in my own heart. There is a better way forward. There are those throughout history who have heard the heart-challenging cry of Jesus to “love our enemies” and “pray for those who persecute us.”
On this day, as I remember the black billowing smoke that surrounded my heart in that college classroom—that tricky smoke—that still lurks in our conversations and threatens to destroy us from within, I am choosing Jesus’ way. I am setting my heart for the long and hard obedience of love for my enemies and prayer for those that wrong me. I am trusting in the power of Jesus’ promise to be with me as he transforms my heart. As he transforms these worn out patterns even those foul four-letter curse words and replaces it with a heart that beats stronger, faster, and better for the life of love, forgiveness, and peace for all. Will you join me? The time for superheroes is here.
Purchase Keeping Pulse: Poems for the Heart here
photo credit: https://www.911memorial.org/tribute-light#swipebox