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.
The people we are memorializing today were givers in the highest sense of the word. And they remind us it is never too late to give.
One gift we can give all those who have passed on is the gift of a loving thought. Even the tangible things we do for others are simply evidence of a thought.
Although we cannot do anything to change the fate of those who gave their lives on September 11, 2001, we can think lovingly of them. If any of us could have done anything to keep them alive, we would have.
Yet may all of us remember that those who died were wonderful men and women. Their stories remind us they were strong and brave and good and wise and funny. Their spirits will be with us forever. And they will be as angels on our shoulders, watching over us and their own families, and being a force for good, for love, for support and protection.
So when we ask, “Where was God in all of this?” we may not have all the answers. But the answer lies somewhere in the memories we have of those who were there. We also know that God was in the doctors, the nurses, the police, the firefighters, the blood donors and the everyday citizens who helped out that fateful day
We do not say goodbye to those who died that day. Rather we say, “Godspeed on your way.” We remember that grace abides in us all, and that we are always one in Spirit.
We send our love. We send our blessings. And we give thanks to those who have passed on, knowing that we are strengthened in our own lives as we move forward to be our best selves each and every day.
Peace & blessings to you.