Editor’s note: This is a reflection from Paul Egensteiner, bishop of the Metropolitan New York Synod.
I remember exactly where I was when I heard of the planes flown into the World Trade Center here in New York City, the plane that attacked the Pentagon and the plane that went down near Shanksville, Pa.
In a daze of unbelief, I walked the short distance from the church where I served to my home. Like so many others, I spent the rest of the day transfixed in front of the TV, trying to make sense of what I was seeing and, of course, asking the “why” question.
I’m a New Yorker, born and raised, and I can tell you our reputation for toughness is well-earned. But as those two iconic towers came down, our spirits came down with them. I later found out that one of the firefighters who died in the building collapse had a child in our nursery school. The sister of one of our pastors (and a close friend) was on the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.
These losses—of people, landscape and spirit—still hurt. I’m proud of the new Freedom Tower that stands adjacent to the World Trade Center site, a witness to our resilience and toughness. The 9/11 Memorial is beautiful, peaceful and heartbreaking, all at the same time. Tears come easily. So do prayers and sighs too deep for words.
Sadly, there have been many tragedies in our country and world since Sept. 11, 2001. But it stands as a landmark in the hearts and minds of all Americans, and New Yorkers in particular.
The “why” questions have been answered but not in a satisfying way.
More important to me are the “what now” questions. When do we—all of us—learn the lessons of that day and treat each other with the love and respect we all deserve as children of God? When do we lay aside the weapons of war, which sometimes come in the form of commercial airliners full of people, and take up the work of peace? When do we confront the injustice, hatred and prejudice that separate the human family into worthy and unworthy, and not only recognize but openly advocate for our commonality as the beloved of the Creator?
We, as church, the body of Christ, are called to these holy priorities and this prophetic work.
As I look southward out my office window and see the Freedom Tower on the horizon, these are the questions that not only occupy my spirit but motivate my work and service. In Jesus’ name.