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Anno Domini: The memorial nobody wants
September 11, 2013 Jerry Purvis   

Read more by Jerry Purvis
Yesterday, we observed Patriot Day. It marks one of those days of remembrance I truly wish we never had to observe. It happened 12 years ago, but for millions of Americans, it happened yesterday.

On September 11, 2001, our new Day of Infamy, America was forced to look into the pure evil, ugly face of terrorism. And the world was forever turned on its head.

I can never “unsee” what unfolded on the nation’s television screens that day and the days ahead, although I’ve tried. The World Trade Center collapses. Part of the Pentagon demolished. And we saw the brave souls of United Flight 93 give their lives to keep crazed psychopaths from inflicting more destruction.

Even more chilling were pictures that came out later. People on the upper floors of the Twin Towers jumping to their deaths rather than being incinerated by the rising flames. Radio talker Melanie Morgan said “Their deaths rattle the soul like almost nothing else can.”

That day was incredible sadness, anger, rage and hopelessness, all rolled into one. And that’s what evil people wanted. They wanted us to suffer. And still do.

On that day, countless heroes stepped forward from the ranks of who I call “Joe Average,” just your everyday American citizen. In Washington, New York, and in the fields of Pennsylvania, they stepped forward.

Italian, Irish and other Catholic firefighters in New York were receiving Last Rites from their priests before going into the burning buildings. They knew they might have to stare death in the face that day.

One clueless reporter couldn’t fathom why those firefighters would run into burning buildings to save lives and risk their own. One firefighter simple answered, “It’s my job.”

And a lot of them climbed all the way to heaven that day.

On a day such as 9/11, our unity showed forth, if only for just a while. Others around the world took notice. An editorial writer in a Romanian newspaper wondered about that unity, saying it didn’t make sense because Americans don’t resemble each other even if you painted them. They speak all the languages of the world and “in matters of religious beliefs, not even God can count how many they are.”

In asking the questions, the editorial writer found his answer. “What on earth can unite the Americans in such a way? Their land? Their galloping history? Their economic power? I thought things over, but I reached only one conclusion. Only freedom can work such miracles.”

Sadly, Americans were pointing fingers at each other even before the dust had settled. A lot of them said we had it coming. Others on the lunatic fringe said it was an inside job.

But more positive displays also happened. Soon after the attacks, flags appeared everywhere – on houses, on cars, even on clothing. And people by the thousands flocked to their places of worship to attempt to make sense of it all.

That lasted until about the end of the year. The congregations dispersed and the flags came down. One minister said it was a sign the nation was getting back to normal. I thought that was a ridiculous statement, because the strength of a nation is in its faith, not its weaponry (Psalm 33:12).

During the dark days of World War II, there was plenty of fear to go around. But we also had an eternal optimism in the innate goodness of America. How things have changed.

Several years after that infamous day, a blog I sometimes visit had a comment from someone who lived in New York. He wrote that despite our noblest effort to turn 9/11 into a symbol of national unity and patriotism, the day’s real legacy was fear.

He wrote that for millions of Americans, the sound of a low-flying plane brings cold sweats. An unmarked bottle of juice of some other liquid can bring an entire airline flight to a screeching halt. And the government does all it can to make sure we continue to live in a perpetual state of fear.

Maybe the guy was being too cynical, but he had a point. Especially about the government trying to keep us afraid.

Others were quick to just forget the whole thing. As we approached the first anniversary of 9/11, one radio caller said we should observe it then move on with our lives. Anyway, he was from California and something that happened across the country was such a “New York thing.”

Sorry, but Mr. Clueless Caller got it wrong. History is an exercise in remembering, not forgetting. Just ask a World War II veteran about Pearl Harbor. He remembers. Ask a practicing Jew about Passover and why it’s still celebrated over the millennia. He remembers.

Our nation’s memory is everywhere. It’s on our currency. It’s on our buildings and monuments. It’s in our founding documents. It’s what makes us an exceptional nation.

I know the idea of American Exceptionalism makes a lot of politicians bristle, including our president. They think we’re claiming to be superior to everyone else. They’re wrong. It only means we have more responsibility, as in serving others, and a special role to play on the world stage.

America is the only nation in the history of the world to be founded on an idea – freedom. It’s also the only nation where those freedoms are guaranteed by God, not the government. Because what government gives, it can also take away.

A warning is also contained therein, because the untended garden of freedom grows weeds quickly. Current examples are too numerous to mention.

I hope everyone had an opportunity yesterday to pause for a moment and give thanks for those defending our freedom, and remembering those who have fallen to the evil face of terrorism.

As we remain vigilant, we need to remember that sacrifices also had to be made in our founding. Or as Thomas Paine wrote, “If there must be trouble, let it be in my day that my child may have peace.”
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