Friday, September 9, 2011

The Heroes of 9/11

I have a personal relationship with the horrors of 9/11. Two and half hours before the first plane struck the Towers we received a phone call that a new grand-daughter was born to my eldest daughter, Natalie. Much joy accompanied the news of Charlie's birth but within a few short celebratory hours it turned into profound shock and sadness as we watched, with millions of others, these tragic events unfold.

On this 10th anniversary, we cannot help but relive the pain we experienced when nearly 3,000 innocent Americans were murdered in cold blood by Islamist extremist scum. It isn't pleasant remembering that day, but we would be remiss if we did not honour them.

We owe it to the dead to never forget them because they died for us, as citizen soldiers who were thrust unexpectedly into a war they never saw coming. We owe it to the living also because there is (strange as it may sound) a silver lining in the dark cloud that cast its dreadful shadow that day. I'm talking about the shining light of incredible courage that was demonstrated by hundreds of ordinary Americans. On that day we discovered unknown heroes hidden in our midst. Who could forget Todd Beamer, a business man on United Airlines flight 93, who shouted "Let's roll" as he and his fellow passengers rushed the cockpit to subdue a group of hijackers. Their jet crashed into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, saving an indeterminable number of people.

Hundreds of miles away at the site of the burning World Trade Center, more heroes emerged. There was Father Mychal Judge, a Catholic priest, who hurried to the burning towers to administer the last rites of his faith to the dying. Tragically, he soon found himself among them. He was joined by an equally unwavering group of New York City firefighters, who stared into the face of death and deliberately put themselves in harm's way.

Ernest Hemingway famously defined courage as "grace under pressure," and those words certainly apply to the 343 firefighters and paramedics who made the ultimate sacrifice that grim day. From my perspective, we have never sufficiently honoured these fallen firefighters, rescue workers, police officers and the many other first responders of 9/11 who gave their lives to save others. Don't forget the over one thousand people who are belatedly suffering from illness caused in helping in the immense search for survivors and the following cleaning up of Ground Zero.

The Way I See It....such deserving heroes should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor so that we might officially recognize their unsurpassed courage. While we are paying tribute, we must not forget the many soldiers from around the world who have lost their lives in the war on terrorism, as well as those seriously wounded. They represent what is best about western civilization....the willingness of ordinary people to make immense sacrifices to defend their ideals of liberty, free-speech and justice.

Beyond this, the heroes of 9/11 are exemplars of an even greater ideal, one which even if we fail to reach, all of us should at least strive to attain. It is an ideal succinctly stated by Jesus in the Gospel of St John: "Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends." A fitting epitaph for Todd Beamer, Father Judge, the NYC firefighters and all the rest who fell that day to save their distant neighbours, many people they did not know but loved nonetheless.