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Are we better or ‘badder’ after 9/11?

Father Mark Goldasich is the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Tonganoxie. He has been editor of the Leaven since 1989.

by Father Mark Goldasich

Every year, as the anniversary of 9/11 dawns, I pull out the following short meditation — both as a reminder and a challenge:

“On this day (Sept. 10) . . . 20 years ago, 246 people went to sleep in preparation for their morning flights, 2606 people went to sleep in preparation for work in the morning, 343 firefighters went to sleep in preparation for their morning shift, 60 police officers went to sleep in preparation for morning patrol, and eight paramedics went to sleep in preparation for the morning shift. None of them saw past 10 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.

In one single moment, life may never be the same. As you live, enjoy the breaths you take today. And tonight, before you go to sleep in preparation for your life tomorrow, kiss the ones you love, snuggle a little tighter and never take one second of your life for granted” (Author Unknown).

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two decades since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Those of us alive at the time will never forget where we were when hearing of the events in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington that morning. Glued to TVs, we watched as horror after horror unfolded.

Permanently seared into my mind is the picture of Franciscan friar Father Mychal Judge, the first recorded casualty of that fateful day, being carried out on a chair by five first responders. That photo reminds me of the selflessness of so many who rushed in to assist others on 9/11 as well as the compassion shown for those who lost their lives or were injured.

September 11 highlighted the worst and the best that humanity is capable of. Some of the wonderful spirit of people is captured in the play “Come From Away” that I wrote about here on Feb. 20, 2020. This musical tells the story of 38 planes containing 7000 passengers that were forced to land in the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, on Sept. 11. The hospitality of the townspeople there helps soothe the uncertainty and anxiety of the stranded travelers.

As I recall, our nation was united in a shared grief, TV stations suspended normal programming (and the incessant commercials) and people — coming to grips with being out of control in these events — turned once again to God for strength, direction and consolation.

This 20th anniversary of 9/11 seems an appropriate time to take a step back and reflect. Pope Francis gives us a framework for meditation in his 2020 book, “Let Us Dream.” He notes that a crisis shakes things up and challenges our priorities and lifestyles.

He writes: “The basic rule of a crisis is that you don’t come out of it the same. If you get through it, you come out better or worse, but never the same. . . . In the trials of life, you reveal your own heart: how solid it is, how merciful, how big or small.”

So, what’s your verdict? In the 20 years since 9/11, are we better or “badder”? How solid are our hearts? How merciful? How big or small?

Those Newfoundlanders in “Come From Away” teach us how to rediscover compassionate and big hearts — lessons many seem to have forgotten or abandoned since 9/11.  A film version of this musical is being released on Sept. 10 on Apple TV+, which I think offers a free seven-day trial. Check it out!

And remember: Never take one second of your life for granted.

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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