“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Flannery, a girl in my congregation, is 10 years old and in the fifth grade. She has no memory of 9/11. The decade since she was born has never been free of war, terrorism, bombings, conflict, and heightened security at airports. Perhaps she is only vaguely aware of this or maybe she watches a great deal of TV and knows that the world is a dangerous place, even if her daily life in Amory, MS is free of the kind of mega-fear that is pervasive globally. The same could be said for other children her age and younger.

These children will grow up taking terror and war for granted just like they do cell phones, 3D movies or MP3 players. They will unfortunately see war as the normal state of things as much as that a black man or a woman of any race could be elected President. They are the last wave of Millennials and the first of Gen Z; their crises were 9/11, whatever their awareness, and the financial distress of the latter part of this decade. It will shape their experiences into their 20s and beyond. Some of them may even end up fighting their contemporaries, the generation growing up a world away in poverty, fear, and hatred of the US. God forbid, but I believe it to be true.

On the other hand, the firefighters interviewed again for the CBS documentary “9/11: 10 Years Later” have an all too vivid memory of that horrific day and its aftermath. In a clip aired on yesterday’s “The Early Show,” to a man they said the events feel as if they happened “yesterday.” No doubt they wish they could be as free of remembering as Flannery and her generation, not haunted by the horror of their colleagues dying, not experiencing the grief of knowing that even now those brave first responders are getting cancer from the lethal cocktail of mercury, benzine, and who knows what else they encountered in those collapsing buildings.

I guess that, like we all do these days, those firefighters take terror as a given, war as an ever present reality, the possibility of another attack the cause of eternal vigilance. But unlike Flannery and her friends, those men, as well as you and I, know that it has not always been this way in our world. There have been times of relative peace and of prosperity, when the possibility of lasting harmony and continued growth and security seemed real because we caught a glimpse of them.

Honestly, I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how we can truly have a world where people get along, where there isn’t constant bickering and suspicion in families, in government, in communities of faith, where children won’t go to bed at night hungry and afraid. Maybe it begins with memory, whether given through education or derived from actual experiences. Memory that is almost sacramental, ritualized, as in “Do this in remembrance of me.” That’s the kind of memory that takes hold of us and moves us to positive, faithful action to do whatever we can to ensure a better world, so that when Flannery’s children and grandchildren grow up, theirs will be a planet at peace.

© 2011 Tom Cheatham

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