At 24 years old, I was an ambitious Wall Street stock trader sipping coffee in our morning news meeting when the planes exploded outside my World Financial Center window on Sept. 11, 2001 — shaking my building and worldview to the core.
My worldly goals literally went up in smoke, as I realized the precarious nature of such plans. Ten years later, I am a Midwestern, married mom with four young children.
Sept. 11 became the date that transformed not only a nation’s imagination, but also countless individual lives.
For me, it was an opportunity to reorder my priorities and finally answer a long-perceived call to lay ministry.
On the one-year anniversary, I was enrolled in a graduate theology program at a Benedictine monastery. I met the man I would marry at a tearful memorial prayer service that evening.
In a honeymoon audience in Rome, Pope John Paul II blessed our marriage. The 1978 opening words of his pontificate — “Be not afraid!” — were both an exhortation and a reminder that we truly have nothing to fear if we, “in all circumstances, hold faith as a shield” (Eph 6:16).
This dear husband of mine is now a naval officer deployed in Afghanistan — the very war prompted by the terrorism I witnessed on 9/11. A full-circle moment? A chance to vicariously seek retribution for a promising path disrupted? No.
I chose to let 9/11 change me as much as it changed our country. I chose to let God’s voice speak louder to me than the chaos of that morning. Old dreams met a new perspective. Rather than responding in anger, I chose to respond by a life changed for the better. If not for that horrible Tuesday, I would have never become a teacher, a foster parent, or had the innumerable positive experiences that have come from following this other road that led away from New York.
From tragedy to blessing
To be sure, not every 9/11 story ends in such contentment, but I think the lesson is that it can. I don’t intend to be simplistic or to deny anyone’s rightful grief.
Saying “good can come from bad” is such pervasive counsel because in our hearts we know it acknowledges a deep truth about reality. The Gospel is full of paradox. For those of us who walk in its light, we understand that tragedy can yield profound blessings. The Resurrection — at its most basic level — teaches us this.
Certainly, denying Osama bin Laden’s condemnation to despair is more of an achievement for those who have lost a loved one, but it is possible. I am not idealizing Sept. 11. On the contrary, I wished at the moment and still wish now in retrospect that the attack never happened. But it did.
An honest evaluation of one’s life — and also the larger story of history — often shows that we most fully reveal who we are by how we react to what we did not choose.
Moving forward in faith
I can’t be thankful for Sept. 11, 2001, because that would applaud evil, but I can have the “peace that surpasses understanding” (see Phil 4:7) knowing that sorrow need not have the last word. The mystery of suffering is ultimately confounded by the faith, hope and love that go on.
Jesus said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).
Jesus leads us out of hatred and death, if we are willing to follow. Without my Catholic faith, I don’t know how I would have moved forward from that day. For that, I am most thankful.
Brittany Doucette writes from Illinois and serves as a facilitator in the University of Dayton distance-learning program for religious educators.