Tribute in Light: Two beams of light represent the former Twin Towers of the World Trade Center during the 2004 memorial of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Photo: Derek Jensen/Wikimedia Commons

This week was the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the US soil at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

One generation of kids, on the cusp of young adulthood in this crazy year of 2020, has no memory of the tragedy of 9/11 save for the stories that they have been told. It’s important that we keep telling the heroes’ stories so future generations can remember and learn.

Last month there were some concerns that the “Tribute in Light” 9/11 memorial would not be happening at Ground Zero this year. The lights projected on the Manhattan skyline which replicates the Twin Towers were started as a memorial in 2002. But concerns over staffing, safety, and costs in the pandemic caused the display to be temporarily canceled.

Thanks to benefactors and non-profits both the display and the ceremonial reading of the names will still happen (at least as of this writing).

In the interim of the threats of cancellations, I received an invitation to a private group on Facebook called “Bring Back the Light Tribute”. While the group is private anyone can find it and request admission here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/4190821460992091

The Facebook page started as an advocacy group to ensure that the memorial display of the World Trade Center in lights would continue this September 11-12th. After that goal was achieved, the group continued to be a place where people recount their personal stories of 9/11/01. 

With over 200k followers in the group, there are numerous daily posts by friends and families of the fallen from that fateful day. The posts in the group are artfully monitored by diligent administrators who remove any hateful comments and/or political posts. 

The stories are testimonies to the resilience of friends and families of those who lost their lives on 9/11. Scattered amidst the stories of loss are the heroic actions of first responders and others who willfully laid down their lives to save others on that frightful day. 

The stories are heart-wrenching and inspirational as survivors share how their lives were changed that day. Young children who lost parents grew up to become first responders and members of the military in honor of their loved ones. Babies in the womb who were protected from the chaos then were born into a new world after 9/11. They learned through what was written and spoken about in the stories of others and pictures of lives they would never meet this side of eternity.

We were just beginning our day of homeschooling that morning, when a friend at our door told us to turn on the television. School plans were scraped that September day and I held my children close as historic events unfolded before our eyes. 

Later that day we attended a prayer service at church as untold numbers packed churches interceding for the rescue of the injured and recovery of the dead. We didn’t know that hospitals which stood at the ready would largely be left empty as rescue efforts shifted to the recovery of the dead.

We were not personally affected by loss on September 11, 2001 and yet we grieved with the world at the tremendous loss. And on September 12, our own world was turned upside down by a catastrophic bleed in my youngest daughter’s brain.

A heaviness hung in the air that day — despite sunny skies and clear horizons. We were trying our best to do normal life even as we knew life would never be the same. But what we didn’t know is that we were about to experience our own 911 emergency.

I was in the backyard in our barn reading to my older daughters when my teenage son called out to me from the house that my youngest daughter was lying on the living room floor unresponsive and convulsing. My legs felt like they were running through mud as I ran the short distance from the barn to the house. As I checked my daughter to be sure she was breathing, my children sat beside her and I called 911. 

While we had suspected Jo suffered seizures in the past because of the hemorrhagic lesions in her brain — in five years since her birth we had never witnessed her succumb to a grand mal seizure. After the EMT’s arrived, Jo was transferred to our local ER to stabilize her. 

As attempts to stop the seizure failed, she was intubated and placed on a ventilator and transferred to the hospital where a neurosurgeon was awaiting her arrival. 

The doctor confirmed our worst fears that a hemorrhaging cavernoma was at fault for the seizure and emergency brain surgery to remove the cavernoma was the only way to stop the bleeding and the intractable seizures.

The surgery was a success and hours later Jo awoke in PICU seemingly unaware of the grieving world around her. But even the PICU moved slowly as all televisions replayed the events of 9/11. 

For our family of six, five years into my youngest’s birth and diagnosis of this rare neurological disease- our world always stopped when Jo was in trouble. But this day was unlike any other emergency we had experienced since her birth because the rest of the world stopped too. 

 I vividly remember one sign of hope which replayed in most every room in the PICU. Networks replayed the scene of members of Congress gathered at the Capitol on the evening of 9/11 to ensure Americans that a united Congress would defend our nation’s peace. 

At that brief press conference, Republican and Democrat leaders concluded with a spontaneous singing of “God Bless America” on the steps of the US Capital. https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4816002/user-clip-congress-spontaneous-sings-god-bless-america-91101

In the days following 9/11, there were no political parties posturing against one another to put their own spin on the events of that day- only Americans serving the United States of America and turning all our hearts and minds to God in prayer.

I marvel at the unity and prayerful spirit of our nation in a time of war.  As I read the stories of heroes and grieve with the shattered loved ones left behind, I am inspired by those who went on to build lives of hope. 

Tragedy paused our busy lives and we united as Americans against an unseen enemy which threatened our freedom and our very existence. 

Yet here we are again, some 19 years later, and our lives were paused once again as an unseen enemy brought death to our communities, our neighbors and even to our family members’ doors. 

But our nation’s response has changed. 

Instead of a nation united in searching for a cure against an enemy virus; we are divided in political camps and words and actions filled with hate. 

Many have forgotten the strength we found on our knees as we bent our heads in humble prayer. We have forgotten love of neighbor in exchange for revenge and words of encouragement are replaced by vitriolic responses designed to cut another down.

Instead of blaming other countries, political parties, governors and even the President, I believe we would do well to recall that the resolve of our nation post-9/11 was found on our knees as we humbly asked for the blessing of God upon these United States of America.

If we return to prayer and love of neighbor, maybe next year — on the 20th anniversary of 9/11 — we will be a nation of firm resolve found in the vulnerability of humble prayer.

God respects our will and may only bless America if we ask. 

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen