What do we Learn from Tragedy?

September 11th forever redefined America and gave new meaning to the word “normal”.  It was a day that shook our confidence, our comfort, and our unspoken sense of invincibility. The depth and the breadth of what happened that day was beyond comprehension.

There are some things unique to that day that happened.

One is that we all remember where we were that day. I had just arrived in Rochester, NY for a planning meeting for a new network we were starting. My wife was at her job at the Buffalo Red Cross. The most impactful moments of life are always accompanied with the knowledge of where we were at that instant. We must never miss these moments no matter how tragic, as there is something precious to be garnered from them.

Also unique to that day was the fact that everything stopped. Whatever plans you made for that morning came to a screeching halt. You could not just go home and watch TV, or go out to your favorite restaurant. When time seems to freeze, it is important to place close attention to what is happening around you. During these sudden stops, “what is important” begins to emerge from what is not. You begin thinking about your loved ones, the state of your life, and the problems you thought you had before crisis.

We also know that we were not ready that day. This is something countless leaders have agreed on. When the attack happened, there was no template for how to deal with it. Fortunately, God has given us template to prepare against anything. Paul writes, “In all these things, we are more than conquerors”. There is a preparedness that only God can give – One that surpasses life and death and anything in-between.

Finally, it changed us all in some way. For some, it was their level of trust. Ron Viola, a fireman, said, “Ten years later, I no longer trust people the way I once did. Ten years later, the world I live in is a much different place.” Many offered penance fearing it was the end of the world. Vice President Dick Cheney was quoted as saying, “That moment. I realized that what was coming next would be different that what came before”.

I was in Southern Ukraine a short time after and was interviewed in a chapel service attended by 1500 students. A question they asked (paraphrasing) was, “Did everyone get religion after 911?”. How do you answer a question like that? Sometimes traumatic things change us for the better. Other times they change us for only as long as we are fearful. Once the crisis is over, we go back to business as usual.

May we learn the right lessons from any tragedy. May we not become merely defined by the pain, but transformed by it. May we always find God on the other side of the struggle.