Observing 9-11

September 11, 2011 (from my journal entry)

This evening I was moved to tears. While it is evening in Ukraine it is morning in the United States. During the day I thought of the significance of this date and the horrible events that unfolded ten years ago. I had an opportunity to formally greet the Phys-Ed and Physical Therapy students of the Vasyl Stefanyk Pre-Carpathian University during their orientation retreat at the camp. As I addressed them I mentioned that today was a day of special significance to Americans because it marked the 10th anniversary of the attack. I told them that although it brought sadness to me; as I looked into their young and intelligent faces I had hope that their generation would help bring peace to the world.

I suppose I thought that was my moment to mark the time and date (although it was still in the early morning hours back home in the USA). The day was filled with meetings and excursions with Ukrainian camp directors so I did not anticipate I would have much more time to reflect and mark the moment.

However, when we returned from our afternoon excursion our small group was instructed to gather in our regular meeting room 15 minutes before supper. When I arrived I noticed everyone was gathered around the table, waiting. My friend, Alexander looked at me and said through my translator, “Darryl, what time is it in the United States?”

Frankly, my mind was blank when he asked. “It’s eight hours earlier than here,” I said. He then addressed everyone: “It is close to the time when the United States suffered a terrible attack 10 years ago that took the lives of over 3,000 people. In this time of sadness, we will have a minute of silence to remember those who perished.”

Suddenly, I began to feel a wave of emotion wash over me. I did not know anyone personally who perished in those attacks—but I remember to this day watching the real-time event unfold on the television in my secretary’s office. My throat tightened and water was coming into my eyes. After a minute Alexander broke the silence and said, “It is our tradition to make two solemn toasts to those who have passed on, to remember them.” He then offered a toast to the memory of those who perished in the attack.

I tried to talk. I wanted to respond. I was able to get a few words of thanks out. I could not finish, my tears would not let me and my voice just stopped.

Others shared how they had watched the attack from television 10 years ago as well. Mykola was in his office earlier and watched the ceremony commemorating the day. He mentioned all of the flags for those emergency responders who also perished as they tried to rescue survivors.

The second toast was taken in silence: a prayer, really, that these kinds of events would never happen again. Not much more was said. We then adjourned to take our supper.

After supper I left the cafeteria in silence. Alexander came up beside me and slipped his arm over my shoulder. “Thank you,” I said. “That meant so much to me.” Alexander speaks little English but he nodded his head in understanding and gave me a smile and squeezed my shoulders.

As I type this I am reminded that one doesn’t have to belong to a particular country to feel for the tragedies of others. These Ukrainian professionals did not have to take the time out to remember the events of September 11, no one asked them to, but they did. Perhaps it was from love and respect for me and the American teams (and friends) who work with them during the summer. Perhaps it was solidarity of suffering: an understanding of brutality and senseless murder.[1] Perhaps it was merely because these are decent and loving people who are willing to hurt with those hurt. Whatever their motivations, their actions touched me deeply.

I am reminded that violent actions are a crime against not just an individual but against the world itself: violence transcends borders. I am reminded too, that love transcends national boundaries, that in truth, we are a global family. I am reminded that although hatred, vengeance, and rage can win battles, the ultimate war is won by love, respect, and yes even forgiveness.

I wasn’t totally honest with the young people I addressed today. I made it sound as if they were the ones who would change the world. But what of my generation? Can we throw it onto the shoulders of these young people and sit back expecting them to clean up the mess we and our forefathers made? Somehow I think that is irresponsible. As long as we have breath, we must not slough off our responsibilities to our children and grandchildren. No, we must join them in making this world a better place.

We are not without resources, either. God has begun this work. Since before the Fall, he has been working to bring Kingdom to bear in our lives and to transform the world. It has been a slow and painstaking process that has involved centuries and generations. And sometimes it seems that it will never happen. But God is just and God is good. His desires will be accomplished on Earth as in Heaven.


[1] Ukrainians have long been acquainted with brutal dictatorships and perhaps one of the most underpublicized brutalities in the 20th Century: The Holodomor (murder by starvation) caused by Josef Stalin. Estimates range from 3 to 10 million Ukrainians were starved to death between 1931-1932.

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About Darryl Willis

Darryl has been working for non-profits for over 36 years. His current work takes him to Ukraine several times a year. He has fallen in love with the country and the people. Darryl writes poetry and his work has appeared in several online and print journals.
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