Yesterday, at the Sacramento Memorial Lawn Chapel, Rev. James Trapp gave the keynote address at the “Never Forget Tribute” to honor and remember the victims and heroes of 9/11. For those who could not attend, we offer an edited version of his speech:
We have come here this evening to pay tribute and memorialize the men and women who lost their lives 16 years ago today.
David Levithan, best-selling author of young adult novels noted, “What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met.”
Just as I remember where I was when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down, I vividly remember what I was doing and where I was that fateful September day.
It was a day that began like any other, until I got call to turn on the television. That day became one of the darkest in our nation’s history. The Twin Towers were reduced to rubble. The Pentagon was in flames. A Pennsylvania field burned with the wreckage of an airplane. And nearly 3,000 innocent lives were lost.
Sons and daughters, husbands and wives, people from all walks of life—all races and religions, all colors and creeds from across America and around the world—lost their lives that day.
Today we honor their memory once more, as well as the survivors who still bear the scars of that day. We thank the first responders who risked everything to save others.
I recall, shortly after September 11, a congregant at the spiritual community in which I was the minster at the time approached me. She was very distraught and she asked me, “What does it mean?” and “Where is God in all of this?”
I’m occasionally asked such questions when a heartbreaking tragedy takes place, like 9/11 or the slaughter of innocent children in Newton, Connecticut five years ago or when a young person suddenly dies before their time.
I don’t believe our human mind can adequately answer those questions. They may not be the best questions to ask. Perhaps a better question is, “How should we live our lives so that we give meaning to those who have died? So they would not have died in vain?”
Peter Guza, the son of one of the victims of 9/11, sought to answer that question. On that day, he was jolted awake when the phone rang. It was the start of his junior year at Lehigh University. He wondered who would be calling before 9 a.m.?
It was an old friend in New York, urging him to turn on the television. The caller knew what all of Guza’s old friends knew: his father, Phil, a 54-year-old mathematician, worked in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Peter went downstairs to a room he rarely visited. A half-dozen of his fraternity brothers had gathered around the TV set. As Peter watched, he saw the second plane hit the South Tower. His heart dropped. But then, as he studied the point of the impact, he felt certain it was well below the 105th floor where his father worked.
After several the minutes ticked by, the building lurched. Peter watched in silence as his father’s tower fell.
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Peter said it was the end of one story, and the start of another. His grief endured and he still feels the crucifixion of the loss of his dad—particularly at certain times when he plays with his own son.
Peter understood he had lost his father much too soon. But instead of being bitter, he felt grateful for the time they had together.
Eventually, Peter established a nonprofit organization, the Phil Guza Memorial Scholarship, to give college money to aspiring math and science majors. Peter felt this was a way he could make meaning out of the sudden death and loss of his father.
There are many stories like Peter’s in which relatives of those who died on 9/11 did something special to give meaning to those who passed on.