A Single Act

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By Camerin Courtney
September 19, 2001

Perhaps the most heart-rending stories that have come from the World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks have been those of passengers on the four ill-fated flights and office workers in the twin towers calling their loved ones during their final moments of life to say goodbye. Watching the non-stop television coverage, we've seen tearful spouses recount the bittersweet gift of a final farewell before "'til death do us part" came tragically too soon.

Just when I think I've cried my last tear over the tragedy of last Tuesday, one of the networks will air another tearful family member's story more gut wrenching than the last. More tears. More grief. Sitting alone in my living room watching the coverage and carnage, I feel so alone and powerless in the face of evil so big and hidden in shadows. Difficult questions float through my mind: What can just one person do to help? Whom would I have called in my final moments of life?

Yet despite these fleeting and sometimes selfish moments of aloneness, there's been a stronger, overwhelming sense of connectedness too. As the horrific events unfolded on Tuesday, I watched them on the lone TV in our company in a conference room full of coworkers. As each plane and building met its demise, the gasps and sniffles throughout the room gave testimony to the fact that we shared the same shock and grief. Not an hour later, at an impromptu prayer meeting with the rest of my immediate staff, one of my coworkers placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder when my prayers degenerated into sobs-a favor I passed on to the friend standing next to me at another impromptu prayer meeting at my church that night. During the latter prayer meeting, my friend Ingrid and I joined two strangers in the congregation when we broke into smaller groups for prayer. Together we asked God to be with grieving family members, trapped victims, weary rescue workers, under-the-gun leaders, and even deceived terrorists.

Like many, I called my parents the day of the attack, and several times since-simply seeking the reassurance of their presence and needing to reaffirm my love and appreciation. I also called my sister, and the dear friends who comprise the rest of my "family." Together we've talked through our conflicting emotions, trying to process the unthinkable and needing to lean on one another and cry with one another during this difficult time. One of my neighbors has hung a big American flag out a front window of our apartment building, and I like to think it speaks for the national pride and unity all of us in the building possess. I've started hugging my friends goodbye after casual coffee get-togethers, and my father has started ending our phone conversations with a reassuring, "Everything's going to be okay."

With every fiber of my being I want to believe him. I want these new words and names that have suddenly crashed their way into my vocabulary-Taliban, bin Laden, jihad-and made me look with fear and distrust at airplanes and skyscrapers and strangers, all things that once fascinated me, to miraculously disappear. But along with these scary new words and feelings have come other more positive terms in day-to-day conversation: patriotism, unity, heroism, and hope. Words that mere weeks ago seemed cliched or old-fashioned have become a lifeline as we return to a "normal" that's not quite as secure as it used to be before last Tuesday.

Until we as a nation regain our balance, I watch in utter awe as countless rescue workers in New York wrestle steel support beams and sift through ash in search of survivors and answers, both of which seem harder and harder to come by these days. These images seem the perfect balance to the countless grieving family members we've heard mourning their dead. Grief alongside heroism. Hatred versus unity. Violence followed by reverent moments of silence. And as our God promised in Isaiah 61:3, beauty somehow birthed from those heaps and heaps of ashes.

I'm exceedingly grateful for a God who doesn't unleash his anger in wild bursts of violence, but who can take the remains of such acts and use them to create beautiful designs of unity, solidarity, faith, and hope. If we keep our eyes on him, though we may not understand all the events of this fallen world, I think everything really will be okay.

Camerin Courtney

2003 Christianity Today. Used by permission.