It feels incredible that we have now had nearly twenty years for the experience to settle into our collective consciousness. I guess that we could rename the terrorists “the equal opportunity destroyers.” When those four massive airliners crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the open field in Pennsylvania, all the innocent victims shared in one common, terrifying moment. That experience eliminated all social, religious, economic, racial and ethnic differences that may have existed. All the souls that perished, perished equally.
Many of those who survived this incomprehensible and cowardly act saw their world of position, rank, livelihood vanish. The visible symbols of their status and careers may have literally evaporated. It all truly became a transcendent moment for the survivors and for us all as we watched helplessly. As people grieved beyond despair they held in their hands symbols, pictures, personal effects of their loved ones. These symbols helped us to stay connected with the lives of our patriots.
Yes, I know that sometimes we want the images to go away. Some of us may keep seeing in our minds these terrifying visuals over and over. But, that singular day has become part of our national fiber and identity as we have embraced the experience and used it to make us a better and stronger people.
The observation has been made that life itself is ultimately made up of symbols. These symbols represent the “stuff” that surround us and define our identity. If there is some truth in this, then the question follows: what are the symbols of your life? If these symbols were destroyed overnight how would you identify the ultimate realities that define your life? Hopefully, we will never again experience the devastation of a 9/11. However, we don’t know that. If a crisis comes along and our lives come apart, if devastation takes hold, what will be the transcendent realities about my life? Will I possess “the right stuff”? That is, will others be able to identify the ultimate essence of my life that will remain standing even after the devastation?
Yes, of course, these are hard questions. However, I submit to you that these questions strike at the very heart of our identity and purpose. The questions don’t get any easier. For instance: How does my lifestyle project the extent to which I’ve allowed material “things” to shape me? What are you allowing to shape your values? What are the truths that drive the very core of our lives? If I were to suddenly perish, what are the symbols and principles that my friends and loved ones would hold up as representative of my life? Indeed, sobering questions for the thoughtful.
The precious lives that were lost on 9/11 continue to touch our hearts. For years to come, we will continue to be reminded of their lives. Their stories will live on through their loved ones and the annals of history. Periodically we hear those stories through testimonials. Next time you listen to one of these testimonials please notice something. Emphasis is never placed on the car she drove, the size of the house he owned, or the corporate position held. Ultimately, they are eulogized for the principles they stood for and the people they loved. Those are the intangibles that constitute and express a value system.
Here is the way Dr. Martin Luther expressed his value system back in the 16th century:
“I’ve held many things in my hands and I’ve lost every one of them but the things I’ve placed in God’s hands I still possess.” To be sure, values that are based on virtues are everlasting. They are passed down from one generation to another and become part of a legacy we leave behind.
“Virtue is uniform and fixed, because she looks for approbation only from God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Charles Caleb Colton).
–Chaplain Joe Molina CDR, UMSC / Chaplain to the Corps of Cadets (© all rights reserved)