It’s been 10 years since 9/11. The day that changed everything, and everyone who watched replay after replay of airplanes flying into buildings. But how have we changed for the better? Consider just one quality: are we more caring for others?
As America prepares to remember the fallen, each of us hearkens back to our own experience of the event. For those among us who were of sufficient age at the time, that day was burned into our consciousness in a way paralleled by few events. Pearl Harbor. JFK’s assassination. Not many more.
In retrospect, it impresses me that some great minds seemed to capture the essence of the event very quickly. Many lucid perspectives arose (along with many that were less so) and some of the better ones have stood the test of time.
I am privileged to recall one such perspective today.
On 9/11, my Father spent the day as many of us did, watching news coverage with a sense of horror, outrage – and deep sorrow. Like so many others, he went to bed that night with many thoughts and images swirling in his mind. A man of deep faith, he did what he always does – he prayed.
In the early morning hours of 9/12, Dad did another thing he often does – he wrote. Despite sketchy details at the time, he wrote a brief and emotional reflection entitled “Terror versus Care: A message to terrorists.” Many of his thoughts were from the perspective of the caregivers who were first responders to the tragedy, many of whom lost their lives.
It’s probably worth explaining why.
My parents were born in Canada during the 1930s. It’s a generation that knew hardship. World War II happened during their lifetimes, and impacted them in ways my generation has difficulty comprehending. The typical response: lives of service.
For my parents, service took the form of missionary work in Nigeria, shortly after Dad was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. This experience led Dad back to school, this time studying third world economic development. His opportunity of a lifetime was here in the U.S. – a full ride scholarship to the Ph.D. program at M.I.T.
After graduation, Dad taught international business for several years, until hearing a calling to the full-time ministry in a couple of communities outside Toronto. It was here that Dad’s life of service and caring for others was unexpectedly deepened. He joined the volunteer ambulance team.
As a volunteer ambulance driver and attendant, Dad was a first responder to emergencies large and small. A couple spring to mind: the first, a youngster who had been giving me a hard time in school, incapacitated by allergies sustained from a peanut butter cookie. Another, a day and a night evacuating hospitals after burning tank cars from a train derailment forced a quarter million people out of Mississauga, Ontario. Dad saw it all, and everything in between.
Through his volunteer duties, Dad gained a visceral appreciation for what he would later hear described as “the dignity of the human person.” Caring for others was not just a theory.
After years in active ministry, and later entrepreneurial ventures in search technology (which continue to this day), Dad returned to teaching at Franciscan University of Steubenville, where my parents quietly entered the Catholic Church. Dad told me it was because of an earlier meeting with Pope John Paul II, and his desire for Christian unity. He saw his calling to unity embodied in the Eucharist, the ultimate model to mankind of a life spent in service and caring for others.
Perhaps this helps explain Dad’s perspective; I’m still fascinated with the results. A couple years ago, on his 70th birthday (the day before my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary), Dad told me that he had figured out the purpose of his life.
It sure had an impact on me. I continue to ponder why, after having spent his entire life caring for others, my Dad – and Mom – are such grateful people. Heck, I even named my web site gratefulconvert.com!
Could it be true that a life of service, a life of caring for others, is ultimately more fulfilling than a life of self-indulgence? Consider just part of what my Dad had to say in his reflection on the events of 9/11:
To care is to persist in a free choice to pour out oneself for the benefit of another. Our police, firefighters, and ambulance attendants may obscure their caring by gruff ways and by unwillingness to talk about some of the worst of what they see. Yet these people persist through the most terrible circumstances, putting their lives on the line, in order to salvage human dignity. Caring is not an emotion. Caring is a choice, a free choice, and the people who really care keep at it, even when all hell is bursting loose.
Thanks, Dad. This is a great reminder of why it’s so important to honor the victims of 9/11, including the emergency workers whose caring cost them everything.
Hopefully their memory provides inspiration to all of us to serve others just a bit better, to care for others a bit more – and maybe for ourselves just a bit less.
In the face of evil, perhaps our only real weapon is love, demonstrated so heroically by those who sought to serve and care for others on that tragic day.
Note: I’d like to gratefully acknowledge Catholic News Agency for originally publishing this post in September 2011.