||Seeking Safety in an Unsafe World|
Terrorist attacks remind us that, in the end, nobody gets out of this life
This is probably the first productive work I've done since last Tuesday morning, when I was awakened by a call from my sister telling me half of the World Trade Center had collapsed. I was still half-asleep as I stumbled to the TV, thinking she must be lying. But if she were, why would she be crying so hard?
She obviously wasn't lying. Shortly after that call I watched live, in utter disbelief, as the second 110 story tower crumbled to the ground.
Since then, I've been stumbling around in a bit of a daze. I'm alternately glued to the TV, praying, and wandering around mindless errands in a futile attempt to feel useful.
Like most Americans, I'm trying to wrap my mind around the unfathomable enormity of what has happened. And I'm not succeeding. I've seen the footage hundreds of times - plane crashing into skyscraper, skyscraper collapsing. It looks like a Bruce Willis movie. I think of the hundreds, the thousands of lives snuffed out at that very instant. I can't see them. I can't imagine their horror. And yet, every single time I see one of those scenes, deep tears come - from a place I'm not sure I'm fully in touch with. It's as if my soul senses the enormity of the loss, even if my eyes can't see it.
I've seen the devastation of a community when 15 students die violently in a high school in a single morning. How can I possibly comprehend the devastation of a nation when thousands or even tens of thousands die violently in office buildings and airplanes in a single morning? It's 1000 Columbines all at once, and it completely overwhelms me. I can't process it. I go numb.
Of course, my first response is to wonder how I can protect myself and my loved ones. As a full-time speaker, air travel is an integral part of my life. I sit on airplanes, often several times a week, worried about nothing but my reading and rental car. I can't stop thinking about those passengers, whose flights started out just as uneventfully. It all went so, so wrong. Trapped at 30,000 feet in a long steel tube, they watched as crazy men stabbed and killed passengers and crew. How did they feel when the realized the hijackers' intentions? What was it like as they saw those national landmarks moving closer and closer, realizing their plane full of innocent people was being used as a missile to kill the thousands of other innocent people within the buildings?
How could those passengers have known? They couldn't. How could they keep themselves safe? They couldn't. How will I feel next time I step onto a plane? How can I keep myself safe?
I can't. I can take precautions. The government can take precautions. The airlines can take precaution. Believe me, I want that - every precaution possible. I want a personal armed escort on every flight. But even if the skies were perfectly safe, there would be other types of terrorist threats. And if those other threats were neutralized, there would be other kinds of threats. And even if those threats, and every other threat, were annihilated, I'd still die some day.
That's the kicker. That's the point. The world just isn't safe. And as hard as we try, and should try, to make it safer, the presence of evil will always be with us. And the presence of evil always poses a threat. There is no absolutely physical safety in this world. Nobody gets out of here alive.
Perhaps, if anything good were to come out of this horror, it would be to remind us of that truth. Have your everyday concerns seemed a little bit petty to you over the past days? I know mine have. It's as if suddenly everything material and temporal has lost its meaning. Making money isn't so interesting. Neither are clothing, cars, or any of the other "things" that usually look so good. The TV image of that lone Gucci shoe, covered in soot and debris, reminds me that its' owner, wherever he is, is no longer interested in labels or status.
It's ironic that, the day after the attacks, the daily meditation in Magnificat was a quote from longtime Soviet prisoner Walther Ciszek, S.J. He wrote about how we can become complacent in our comforts, and to take God for granted. He says "Then it is, perhaps, that He must allow our whole world to be turned upside down in order to remind us it is not our permanent abode or final destiny, to turn our thoughts once more to Him - even if at first our thoughts are questioning and full of reproaches."
We need to be clear: God didn't cause this to happen. This was the exercise of the free will of evil men, men clearly somehow possessed by the Prince of Darkness. But I'm a firm believer that "God writes straight with crooked lines." He uses these events, He uses the evil choices of men, to bring about His Kingdom. Do you think God caused men to put His Son to death? No. But He knew they would. And he used that horrific event, where man killed God, as an instrument for the salvation of the world.
And so He will use this. He will use it to call us as a nation to return more fully to Him, to rely on Him for our protection and our strength. He will use it to demonstrate for us the value of every human life, as rescue workers toil against impossible odds, hoping to save just one more person. He will use it to bring us together and to remind us of our true priorities.
Evil can rant and rage. Evil can threaten and even destroy our physical lives. But evil can't win in the end. Because God is bigger than evil, and bigger than our physical lives. His life is forever. His love is forever. And evil cannot triumph over that. All we need to do is to follow Him, to unite ourselves to Him, to love as He loves, to follow His commandments and repent when we fail. Then evil can't touch us in the end.
Because the end, whenever it does come, will find us with Him, in safety and happiness that will never end.
I can't give you a perspective on the overwhelming events of the past week. I can't yet find it for myself. But as you mourn, as you try to make sense of a truly senseless, enormous, horrific tragedy, pause for a moment and remember one simple truth:
This life won't last forever. The next one will. We need to plan accordingly.