Like many of my fellow Americans, I’ve been deeply moved this month by so many stories and photos and interviews recalling the terrorist attacks on our country twenty years ago. But perhaps what moved me most – to my own surprise and wonder – was the speech by former President George W. Bush at Shanksville, Pennsylvania. You can read it here.
He praised the courage of passengers and crew on Flight 93, who brought the hijacked airplane down, losing their own lives but saving the terrorists’ probable intended target, the United States Capitol.
President Bush was eloquent. His language was often lyrical, always tough and true. “The world was loud with carnage and sirens, and then quiet with missing voices that would never be heard again.” He spoke of horror – “the audacity of evil” – and “the solidarity of grief and grace” rising to face “the brute randomness of death.”
Other speakers praised the bravery of first responders who died saving people in the towers. The day was thick with grief – we heard stories of widows and their children who grew up without a father. Survivors still wonder why they escaped and friends were lost. But no one else I heard dared to address the spiritual challenges raised by so much pain. President Bush did.
He acknowledged there is no simple explanation for unearned suffering. “All that many could hear was God’s terrible silence.” He didn’t offer an explanation or solution. Then this: “But comfort can come from a different sort of knowledge. After wandering long and lost in the dark, many have found they were actually walking, step by step, toward grace.”
A cynic could say, “He has a good speech writer.” Yes, but Bush has a reputation for telling his speechwriters what he wants to say. These remarks seem too personal, vulnerable even, not to have come from the speaker’s own tough conversation with his Maker. And I suspect it’s still going on.