From Dust to Dust; From Sorrow to Singing
By Janice Shaw Crouse,
Co-Author, A Different Kind of Strength
October 12, 2001
Like ashes poured from a colossal upended urn, the cloud of dust rolled across Manhattan on September 11th. Thousands of souls from 63 countries departed, gone in an instant, in the blink of an eye. The World Trade Center released a Great Cloud of Witnesses who raced across our TV screens, and into eternity.
As hope achingly faded, we were told gently that most of the earthly bodies of that day’s dead probably would never be found, never be identified, and never fill a casket. The collapse of 100 stories and a million tons of concrete and steel produced so much pressure, heat, and fury that the remaining DNA is mostly molecules. We watched the cataclysm in impotent horror; then stared transfixed and unbelieving as cremated remains dusted the city. Unrecognized, unburied, underfoot. From dust to dust, a tragic, immediate reality.
Though the traditional observance of Ash Wednesday reminds us that from dust we were formed and to ashes we will return, our nation’s Ash Tuesday, September 11, will always remind us-that, finally, after numbing loss and piercing sorrow comes singing. Even as the fires continue to burn, the solemn refrain echoes fervently across our land, “God Bless America.”
The first videos of the crashing planes and collapsing buildings were played with the ambient noises suppressed; to protect our sensibilities a narrator’s voice was superimposed over the stunning images. Only later were the tapes played with the frantic, audible reactions: “Oh my God,” they cried. “My God.” Suddenly, the unimaginable took on stunning reality and the agonizing cry echoed across the land: “Oh my God.” Once again there came the faint echo from Golgotha, the prayer of the ages-“My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
In the swirling, choking dust, we cried. And the same wind that bore our sorrow wafted our answer-a choked, but unfaltering refrain, “God Bless America.”
“I heard America singing,” said America’s great poet, Walt Whitman, “the varied carols I hear.” Whitman wrote of the mechanic, the carpenter, the shoemaker, “each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else. . . ” Were he in Manhattan or Muncie today, Whitman would hear the fireman, the policeman, the stockbroker, the volunteer; he would hear the echoes of America’s voice rising above the ruins. The shattering blow that struck down the Twin Towers served also to liberate us from our timidity in the face of the scornful sophisticates who sneer at all things patriotic. After a long draught, our spirits drank deeply, no longer embarrassed that our hearts swelled with pride to hear it trumpeted that America is a great and good land, too great and good to be defeated by this or any other bloody terrorist attack.
It is a common failing of human nature to ascribe our own motives to others. People think that others reason as they do. Our enemies lust after world domination and glory and believe that we have no higher calling than worshiping mammon. Our enemies who hate us believe that they will destroy us by collapsing our buildings and banks. Our enemies cannot comprehend that We the People formed this nation on a set of principles, self evident from our Creator.
What did they expect to hear in the aftermath of their evil? Whatever it was in their fiendish imagination, surely it was not America singing a song of her salvation.
The collapsing towers produced a wind of spirit that our enemies do not understand and cannot kill. For the moment our enemies are strutting, believing the movie images that show us as totally bewitched by false gods. But what the enemy sees is not us; knowing little of us beyond what they have seen on the screen, they had no concept of the multitudes of decent, God-fearing heroes there are in this land who would readily risk their own lives to answer their neighbors’ cries for help.
Rich nation that we are, this great tragedy has reminded us anew of the admonition in Proverbs penned by ancient Israel’s King Solomon-one who was himself exceedingly rich-that the pursuit of money is chasing after the wind. Our country’s foundation is not cash or buildings or institutionsit is a creed; it is a spirit and its foundation is God.
Thomas Jefferson said that every generation must water the tree of liberty with the blood of its patriots. What was true in the past is now reality for today’s generation. The patriots that America lost on Ash Tuesday, September 11, 2001, gave their blood answering the call of duty and likely many more will be called upon in the future for the same sacrifice to defend our freedom.
Just as we now visit the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, under water with the remains of 1,000 citizens, so will future generations visit New York City. They will walk down Church or Liberty Streets to Ground Zero and feel the wind touch their cheeks with the grit, the dust of dauntless heroes in the air. With their dust, we will remember their spirits. Until our days are complete in this proud and beautiful land, until we have faces and join them on the other side of eternity, until we can thank them, we raise to them our hymn of freedom: God bless America.