by Bryan D. Jackson
September 11, 2001 and the COVID-19 pandemic: For those of us who have experienced both, there are striking and disturbing similarities. These are events with global effects which, each in their own way, have reset our world and worldview. Our purpose as Christians and the response we put forth will tell the world who we are. I encourage you to come and see what that might potentially look like.
Though the September 11 (9/11) attacks were directed at the United States, their impact was global and long-term. Lest we forget, we are still fighting a “war on terror.” Lives are still being lost as a result of the events of that day. Our combat soldiers still die; our firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and police officers are still dying from cancer and other diseases as a result of their recovery efforts at the World Trade Center. Sacrifices have been made; probably more than we can count or will ever know.
Where were you on 9/11? If you were of a “remembering age,” you probably recall exactly where you were and what you were doing. At the time, jobs for the clergy were tough to come by where we lived, and I was in between ministry roles and had an unrelated, part-time gig in the afternoons. I had the television on and saw a recording of the attacks from a few minutes earlier. I took a break to gather my thoughts and emotions and while in the kitchen, my wife called from her downtown office and said, “They just hit the Pentagon.” I recall sitting in front of the TV, praying.
I attended a 10:00 a.m. appointment that morning with my therapist. She had travelled with me down many an emotional road over the years. She was an excellent clinician and one of the most experienced counselors in the city, and yet even she seemed thrown by the morning’s events. I remember sitting with her and being interrupted by her professional partner (one of those things in therapy that, theoretically, at least, never happens). This was one occasion where I’m glad it did. She summoned us to the break room where there was a radio. People were evacuating major U.S. cities at an unprecedented rate. We decided to postpone our session and head home.
We all tend to remember what is important to us. What do you think you will remember in twenty years, about the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic? What about this crisis has held meaning for you? Where do you think you will be in two decades? What might you be doing then? Most of us are probably familiar with the concept of crisis creating opportunity. What opportunities do you dream about that might actually come out of this current crisis? Please, keep dreaming. Your dreams might just come true. Mine did. You may already have found support in the Scriptures of your choice. On the other hand, your anxiety may be sparked by terms such as “social distancing” the same way mine was in the years following 9/11 whenever I would hear the phrase, “alert level orange.” Language like this has been absorbed, for the most part, into our collective subconscious. So too—someday—shall the language of this pandemic.
Meanwhile, we should pray that our memories stay fresh, for as Ecclesiastes 1 reminds us, if we do not learn from history we are destined to misunderstand it—as well as repeat it as it gradually becomes the past. Although, as humans, we tend to repeat our mistakes—sometimes with breathtaking frequency—we have recourse. It rests in the belief in one who tried to impress upon his followers that there was a place for them. All they had to do was “come and see,” because there were things he wished to tell them (John 1:39 NLT). Jesus wanted his followers to know and to communicate to others that a better way—a way of clarity—could be found through faith—faith in in him, and, therefore, faith in God.
As Christians, we are duty bound to go and see what our Lord thought was so important. Can anything good come from terrorist attacks or viral pandemics? Come and see. Right now, you might feel stressed under the fig tree of your own anxiety, but a belief in the restorative power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus of Nazareth embodied can carry you beyond any crisis because that was God’s plan from the beginning—to make us whole again.
Are you longing for that wholeness? You are not alone. Trust in the possibility of future opportunities. You are invited to come and see.
The Rev. Bryan D. Jackson is an American Baptist minister and a member of the Mount Hood Cherokees, a satellite community of the Cherokee Nation. He lives in Kirkland, Washington and is the author of Chattahoochee Rain: A Cherokee novella.
Photo by Willem-Jan Huisman on Unsplash