I don't normally turn on the television in the morning, but for some unknown reason, I was tuned into "The Today Show" on Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center was hit by those hijacked planes. Like so many other Americans, I will never forget the images we saw that day, the panic in our hearts, the flood of unanswerable questions about safety, security and the future.
The first church I pastored after Bible college was on Staten Island in New York City, and as a result of that, I knew people whose family and friends were in the towers that day.
By Sept. 13, I was back, arriving in New York with a van full of donated bottled water to deliver to workers who were sifting through Ground Zero rubble that had been removed to the landfill on Staten Island. Etched into my memory is driving into the city that day and seeing for the first time the New York skyline without the World Trade Center buildings. So is the smell of lower Manhattan. So are the blank stares of New Yorkers I encountered at a candlelight vigil in Washington Square Park that night.
They were grieving. As were we all.
I think I still am.
Even 20 years later, I can't watch any 9/11 memorial shows on television or movies based on the events of that day. If CNN does a special report or Netflix puts out a new documentary, I simply do not watch. I can't bring myself to relive it.
Reflecting on that day two decades later, I realize that I am still grieving more than just the lost lives. I am still grieving what 9/11 did to our country.
I am still grieving that 9/11 gave us an excuse to reinforce the myth of redemptive violence. Maybe the most pervasive fairy tale we tell ourselves as Americans is that the way to overcome violence is with greater overwhelming violence. We believe in "shock and awe." But what makes for an entertaining action movie is actually tragedy for real-life human beings caught in the collateral damage of redemptive violence.
In the aftermath of 9/11, we didn't look for creative and peaceful solutions to address hate and make the world a more just and loving place. We dropped more bombs. And, like always, redemptive violence didn't solve anything. It just made the world more dangerous.
I am still grieving that 9/11 turned more people into our enemies, stoking bigotry, prejudice and rejection. The slurs for, the dehumanization of, the utter disregard for people because of where they grew up or their religion quickly became culturally acceptable and have persisted for 20 years.
For a nation that is purported to be founded on Christian values, we used 9/11 as an impetus to permit ourselves to hate. And, over the past 20 years, I've witnessed far too many Christian leaders excuse and justify that hate.
I imagine that like most of us who remember that day, I will carry 9/11 grief with me for the rest of my life. My prayer for myself remains the same as it is for our country, that somehow our grief will not harden into hate and vengeance but will soften our hearts to love.
Robb Ryerse is the pastor of Vintage Fellowship in Fayetteville. He is the author of "Running for Our Lives: A Story of Faith, Politics, and the Common Good." You can reach him at email@example.com.