A year ago this week, we watched in impotent horror as dust from the collapse of 100 stories and a million tons of concrete and steel poured through the streets of Manhattan. The cremated remains of innocent victims of a terrorist attack poured like ashes from a colossal urn. From dust to dust, a tragic, immediate reality was seared into the American consciousness. Suddenly, the unimaginable took on stunning reality — thousands of souls from 63 countries departed, a Great Cloud of Witnesses who raced across our TV screens, and into eternity. An agonizing refrain reverberated across the land: “Oh my God.” Once again we heard the cry of Golgotha, the prayer of the ages now applied to our own nation – “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.
Our enemies who hate us believe that they will destroy us by collapsing our buildings and banks. Whatever they expected to hear in the aftermath of their evil, it was surely 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. Our enemies 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 institutions; its strength is in Truth; 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.