A personal journey to reunite with families of 9/11 victims

As 9/11 approaches, I mourn with 10 years of images for the families and people who died working, traveling or responding to the terrorists’ attacks. The tragedy spawned unjustifiable wars, political deceit, homeland security searches, privacy intrusions and human rights violations, which I’d linked to the original tragedy. As I wrestled to sweep away those disappointments and find a heartwarming response on this commemorative date, I realized how insensitive I’d become about the tragedy of that day. I’ve found a service in Wenatchee’s Centennial Park that should allow me to emotionally unite with the families by formally remembering their loved ones and serving those who locally respond to disasters.

My first mourning began early in the morning at Gresham, Ore., far west of Ground Zero. The television clicked on to show a skyscraper with smoke floating into blue skies above dust below. I needed several moments to accept the idea that the ticker across of the bottom of screen,“One WTC tower collapses” meant World Trade Center. I dropped into the sofa feeling deeply sad.

In the days immediately afterward I was proud of our response. The instant bravery of first responders humbled me. President Bush, standing in front of a mosque, inspired us all by calling for tolerance for Muslims because Al Queda terrorists attacked, not the Nation of Islam. The Saturday after 9/11, Gresham organized a public grieving event by rolling blank newsprint paper on the street over several city blocks and inviting people to share their feelings. I wrote a forgotten prayer that ended with a hope our nation’s response would be consistent with my guiding Bible verse in Micah 6:8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

The signing allowed me to bring closure and focus on the upcoming move to our retirement home in Wenatchee. I felt we’d be safe tucked alongside the mountains and rivers of remote Eastern Washington. That was because I ignored the threat from attacks on the nearby nuclear plant and massive hydropower dams.

During the last 10 years of disappointing wars and politics, I admit growing insensitive to the plights of the victims. I’d forgotten about the dust that clung to skin and buildings and inflamed sinuses and lungs. And somewhere near the middle of the last 10 years, I confess I grew impatient with still grieving survivors, analytically excusing myself by admonishing them to find paths to joy while still honoring their loved losses. The assassination of Osama bin Laden led families of victims to hug each other in closure, while I felt only respect for our military success without joy for the killing.

For me, this 9/11 is best remembered as the National Day of Service and Remembrance established by Congress in 2009. The act was requested by family members who lost loved ones and wanted to honor them and pay tribute to first responders with acts of service.

I plan to attend the tribute to local first responders at Centennial Park on Sunday, beginning at noon with a barbecue followed by a service at 1 p.m. First United Methodist Church and Stan Smoke, Wenatchee’s fire chief, jointly sponsor the event.
Sept. 11 is a day to nurture compassion by respectfully remembering those we lost and those who honorably serve us today.

Got a comment on Jim’s column? Shoot us an e-mail at weekly@empire-press.com, or visit his blog at blog.jamessrussell.com.