Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Real Lesson of September 11th

During the fall of 2001, I was a college graduate, living in a new town, working my first "real" job.  But ironically, I suddenly found myself returning to high school, as I was actively organizing my 5-year reunion.  

It was just going to be a casual gathering of friends at our high school's Homecoming football game, but finding my classmates was a lot of work, because many were not yet online and Facebook wasn't yet in existence.

Since many of the contacts that I made were made over the phone, I was pleased to have some really wonderful "live" conversations with people who I hadn't seen since high school. 

But there was one classmate who I dreaded contacting.  This girl and I held a mutual disdain for each other during our school days.  That was no secret to either of us.  I didn't like how she acted or how she treated other people, and I made no bones about that.  

Her reaction to my declaration was to do things to me that were underhanded, dishonest, and even cruel.  I tried to proceed as if it didn't bother me, but even the thought of her name, years later, made my stomach turn.

I put those feelings aside, acquired an email address for her and sent her the details of our planned reunion, just the same as I did for everyone else whose email address I could find.  I really didn't expect her to reply.

Just a few days later, on the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was sitting at my desk at work watching the second plane fly into the World Trade Center with my boss.  

After watching a few of the nightmarish replays, I turned on my computer in a daze to check my personal email account.  I found an email from this person waiting for me.  It had been sent the night before.

In the email, she asked ME to forgive HER for the way that she acted in high school.  She admitted that she had been wrong, and that I had been, in her words, "nothing but sincere".  

I was astounded.

The morning of September 11th had already served up the unimaginably horrific for all the world to see, yet simultaneously, I was being presented with the most sublime gift available in this life: forgiveness and an opportunity to forgive another.  An opportunity to be free.  

The two acts stood in stark comparison to each other.

And it was clear to see that hate and love, pride and humility, resentment and charity are two sides of a coin that are each rewarded very differently.  Destruction on the one hand and peace on the other.

My former enemy had given me the gift of peace that day, while the terrorists dumped confusion, loss, and sadness unexpectedly in our laps.  But did they leave us with more than that?

Around the two year anniversary of September 11th, I was attending a press conference for work in Washington, DC, when I met and interviewed a man who had lost his son in the Twin Towers attack.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that he held no hatred in his heart for the people who planned and carried out the attacks.  Instead, he poured all of his time, energy, and money into establishing a school for children in one of the countries that the attackers came from.  He named the school after his son.

This man could have been left with only grief after the events of 9-11, but he chose instead to be left with an opportunity to grow and to make something beautiful out of something ugly.  He is an inspiration to me.

In reality, we are all free to make this same choice, every day of our lives.

The Book of Mormon teaches us that "Men are free to choose according to the to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or free to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil..."

The terrorists chose death.  What will you choose?   


  1. What a wonderful post! Thank you. I love that we have within each of us the power to choose how we will respond - to everything and everyone - and I love hearing stories of people who chose to respond well.

  2. What an amazing and inspirational man. I only hope I would react even half as well.


  3. Lovely post. It would be so nice if I could turn offences into opportunities to forgive-how much more I would grow that way!

  4. Thanks for the great post. It's a great reminder that we chose how to respond! Thanks for the uplifting thought.

  5. This is absolutely beautiful and I really needed to read it today. Amazing!!! Thank you for sharing. :)

  6. Great post, Jocelyn. What a contrast of emotions on that day. What a great reminder for each of us on the power to choose. Thanks for sharing!

  7. What a beautiful reminder that we are the sum total of our choices. We are what we choose. What a wonderful example of the savior's teachings. I don't know if I could have turned such a horrific and life-changing event into such a beautiful and life-changing event. Thank you for sharing!

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I felt the Spirit as I read it. I'm so happy that you have a rosier color to your memories of 9-11.

  9. wow, it is amazing to hear of that man who poured his heart into building those schools. I am consistently amazed by so many acts of charity I see throughout this war- especially in the military. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and memories.

  10. What a beautiful memory to have during a horrible time! You are wonderful.

  11. touching story. I too had a similar experience at my 45th reunion, a girl who had bullied me, asked for my forgiveness-I had forgotten all about her but she still felt guilt after all those years. It helped to clear the air and understand where she had been coming from as others were bullying her and she picked me to take her anger out on. Life is a series of lessons to learn from...

  12. Thank you for your incredible message.

  13. This was a awesome post and I was excited to see that your link came from the Deseret News.
    Blessings to you!