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The True Legacy of 9/11

Today is a day of ceremony, solemnity and celebration in New York City. The 9/11 Museum has formally opened. And political dignitaries, survivors, heroes and family members of those killed shared words and memories.

Memory is central to being human. “Do this to remember me” says Jesus.

I remember 9/11 well. I was living in New York City. I was a pastor at one of the big, prominent churches in New York. What do I remember most about 9/11, about the day itself? I remember feeling like a zombie—disoriented, like part of me was missing; it gut wrenching. And I remember looking into the dazed and confused and shocked and tear-stained faces of others and knowing that they felt the same way. And when I hugged and held and prayed with them I knew it even more.

People flocked into churches and other religious sites. Where there were no religious sites available, people created them on street corners and in parks. People cared for each other. People wanted to be with each other. People detested the violence. I heard no cries for revenge—that came later. People helped each other, hugged each other, cried with each other—it was an expression of how to be as much as an expression of what to do.

What is “the true legacy of 9/11”? I see two overarching legacies: 1) An intense fear of others bordering on, and often exhibiting, insanity that drives everything from gun sales and gun violence in our homes and neighborhoods to military spending by our government to drone kills oversees all of which rarely get discussed in our media in any rational or constructive way, and 2) Great caring and heroism among individuals and groups in our neighborhoods which rarely get discussed in our media in any rational or constructive way. The common denominator? Little or no accurate or helpful coverage in the media.

I hope today is an exception. I hope the media coverage of the 9/11 Museum opening focuses on the words of people like the mother of the young World Trade Center worker and former volunteer firefighter who became known as "the man in the red bandanna." Welles Crowther led others to safety from the south tower and then died when we he went back in to help more people and the tower collapsed on him and them. One of his bandannas is in the museum. His mother said today that she hoped it would remind visitors "how people helped each other that day, and that they will be inspired to do the same in ways both big and small. This is the true legacy of Sept. 11." I hope Mrs. Crowther’s is right and I hope that that is the true legacy of 9/11.

Memory is central to being human. To “remember”—really “remember”—is to put back together. It is to build up what has been lost or torn down. It is to act in a way that expresses what humans can be and are meant to be—caring, social, communal creatures who live and work together so that the community thrives and so that each other can thrive. That’s a “true legacy” that, I hope and pray, we can all get behind. Or better, get out in front of.

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