“You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; but it shall not come near you. Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked.” –Psalm 91:5-8
On this day, half my life ago, I walked home from my American middle school in Germany and found that the relative peace we seemed to have won was violently and enduringly sundered. Across the world, our home bases shut down. The gates went up, intending to repel enemies we could not see. Armed guards took to every entrance, machine guns in hand, in silent vigil for our constant protection. They would not stop the threats that would emerge over the years, but perhaps they stopped the bombings that endured in whispered fears. And over the next few months, all our parents prepared for war.
They were soldiers, after all, and sailors, Marines, and airmen. They were military spouses and DoD civilians who were entrusted with the home front and its legions of frightened, confused, and perpetually agitated children. Of those who eventually left, many would come back different somehow. There were injuries, physical and psychological, and the searing memories of sand, heat, and blood—and hatred, the scion of pain. There were homes strained, and some broken, by the weight of separations weaponized by the agony of war. And there were people who would not return but instead joined the thousands who perished in the fire and steel of terror.
September 11, 2001 was, in some grand sense, an initiation into a new century. It was the start of the new crucible of terrorism, recession, grievance, and insecurity. For eleven years now, we have wrestled the dark angel of that day in search of a new peace and the enduring operation of justice. But as Jacob left his family, for a time, to rise to his defining challenge, so have the fighting men and women of America—like my father and brother—left wives, husbands, children, and other loved ones behind to serve their country in conflict.
In reflecting on all that has been lost and bitterly gained since 2001, we remember the innocents who suffer, even to death, and are not heard. We remember the first responders, the emergency workers, and the people they leave behind. We remember the military families who live in sacrifice, that our grand opportunities may be taken for granted. We remember the precious legions that have paid for our freedoms with their deaths. For such is the cost and promise of life.
May we always be worthy of the service of the brave who defend the greatest hopes of our lives with the offering of their lives, in whatever form. And the Dream lives on.