3,000 American Flags erected by the students and staff of Pepperdine University in memory of the victiims of September 11th.

Tonight, I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us, spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.” (President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001)

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the attacks on September 11th. Growing up, I had listened with a kind of awe and wonder to the stories of my parents and grandparents when they recounted where they were when they’d heard that JFK had been shot. I couldn’t imagine an event that would embed itself so indelibly in my memory that way. Now, my generation knows what that feels like, to know with utter clarity where you were and what you were doing the moment you heard about what was happening the morning of September 11, 2001.

I was at home, a young college student sleeping in on a morning when I only had afternoon classes. I was relishing the empty and quiet house. I was lounging around in my favorite pajamas – a humongous slate blue Levis shirt that belonged to my younger (but much bigger) brother until I appropriated it for my own use, and a pair of Disney Grumpy Dwarf flannel pajama pants that I’d worn so many times that they were as soft as a kiss. My comfort clothes. I’d need them that morning.

My mother called me from work, confused and upset. She and my sister both worked for the same company, and they were having a hard time getting information about what was happening. They asked me to go turn on the television. I did.

I remember sitting there a moment. My hand covering my mouth, as though by doing that, I could just keep it from being real. Confusion, disbelief. How could this be happening? Was it even real? What a horrible, horrible accident. And then the second plane hit. I called my mom to update her, and she spread the news through their office.

The awful truth sinking in further and further as the authorities got a clearer picture of what was really going on. Terrorists. Attacks. On purpose. Killing on purpose. I sat there, on our couch in our living room. Safe – but feeling my world tilt off of its axis for the first time in my young life.

I called my grandfather – he was my moral compass. Somewhere, I felt that if anyone could put this into perspective for me, he could. He could make sense of it for me. Explain it in a way that I could understand. Tell me why. Make it safe again.

For the first time in my life, my grandfather – a member of the Greatest Generation, a self made man, a seaman in World War II, a spiritual man devoted to God – failed to do what he had done for me so many times before. He could not make it right. He could not make sense of it. He himself was reeling, the same as I, and after telling me that I would be okay, asked if he could call me back later. I said ‘okay,’ and hung up, more bereft than before.

I continued to watch the perpetual newscasts, finding out about things as they were happening and relaying the information to my mom.

And then, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t breathe. I will forever remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the moment that they announced that in order to escape the climbing flames, people were jumping off the top of the towers. One, after another, after another. I remember sitting there, poised on the edge of the couch, each muscle tensed, one hand covering my mouth, covering my sobs, and the other over my heart as if by doing that, I could hold all that pain inside. And I watched them fall.

That was the moment when I first understood what horror meant. What it felt like. In a real way.

At that moment, I lost my innocence in a way that nothing before and nothing since have managed.

And that is why, as people harangue one another over the possible construction of a mosque blocks from Ground Zero, I sigh, and I take a deep breath. That is why when some preacher starts banging on about burning the Quran, I sigh, and I take a deep breath, and I close my eyes. And I pray. I pray for all the people who threw themselves to certain death to escape the worse fate of burning alive. I pray for all those who rebelled on Flight 93, sacrificing themselves so that others might live. I pray for all those men and women who entered the Twin Towers that day, hoping to help people get out, who never got out. I pray for all those who went to work or got on a plane that morning, expecting normalcy. I pray for all the families who will never hold their loved ones again.

I don’t care what the memorial looks like. I don’t care where or if they build a frigging mosque. I don’t care about some ignoramus who insists on riling people up so he can have his 15 minutes of fame over the prejudicial burning of a book. I don’t care about it.

I care about the fact that I watched people dying that day. No one can ever bring those people back. No memorial will ever change the fact that they are gone, and that their families have suffered. No one can ever change the fact that my innocence is gone, in its place a knowledge of horror and hatred that I’d never thought to have.

Please, don’t forget what a day of remembrance is meant to be about. Remembering. Honoring. Praying.

My grandfather died on December 28th, 2001. From September 11th to the day he died, he apologized to me each and every time he saw me, saying, “I should have come to you. I should have come and gotten you so that you didn’t have to be alone.” I told him that it was fine, that I was okay, each and every time he said it. What I couldn’t say then, but I could now is – “It’s okay Grandpa. What I wanted you to do was fix it. And what I know now is that no one could.”

All we can do is remember, pray, and look forward in hope.

To all the victims of the September 11th attacks, may you rest in peace and may the hearts of your families be eased and comforted, I pray.

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