William Sloane Coffin, pastor and author, was known for his activism in civil rights issues and war protests. He was also a dad. In 1983, his son Alexander was killed in a car accident when the young man was 24. For all his political arguments and actions, Coffin was humbled by the violent death of one of his children.
In the days soon after the tragedy, he and his family received a healing flood of ministry and messages. One cherished letter ended with a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms: “The world breaks everyone, then some become strong at the broken places.”
In the wake of 9/11, it did not take long for some to become strong at the broken places. First responders, construction workers, medical volunteers, and many others swarmed New York after the towers fell. People donated blood, gave money, organized community events, gathered in houses of worship, volunteered for military service, reached out to neighbors and strangers …
For a time, our nation and much of the world pushed aside differences and disagreements to become a human family. Many countries lost citizens on that dreadful Tuesday. Most people saw the face of evil that day and chose to respond, not just to vow vengeance but to draw close to those devastated by the attacks.
How has our world changed in 15 years? I wish I could say we learned our lesson, we realized how fragile life is, we work harder to build strong, safe communities, we pay attention to the hurting and displaced, and we refuse to surrender to fear. One of the common declarations following 9/11 was “Never again.” It seems we are as vulnerable now as ever.
Our enemy is not just the radical Islamist. Our enemies are complacency, selfishness, willful ignorance, lack of empathy, faith, and grace. For a short while, churches and temples were full of people on their knees in prayer. Today, the scene is far different. Someone wisely said, “Before we stand for anything, we should kneel about everything.”
“Lord, listen to Your children praying.”