September Journal, Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

The Fire TrailWhether or not one agrees that America needed to leave Afghanistan, the nature of the leaving, the exit as it were, has been a catastrophic failure, not only in leaving many vulnerable Afghans and Americans behind, but in allowing the Taliban to take over the country. Three weeks ago the terrorists who attacked America on September 11, 2001, took over Kabul and most of Afghanistan. Six days from today, we remember and mourn those lost on nine-eleven, all those killed in the World Trade Center bombings in New York by the Taliban.

Will there be another attack on U.S. soil on this September 11, 2021, the twenty-year anniversary?

The fear of pandemic has been replaced by another more familiar fear: terrorism.

My sixth novel, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing, 2016), is set in September 2014. I chose the month largely for reasons of setting. I wanted dusk to be falling in the hills east of San Francisco, where the fire trail winds above UC Berkeley. The novel opens with that setting, as the student Jessica runs the trail alone and comes upon the body of a girl recently murdered. She sees the murderer and he sees her. And so the plot unfolds. September was the best month: school in session, waning daylight in the early evening.

At first it did not occur to me that the span of the novel, essentially the month of September, would include the anniversary of nine-eleven. Given that a central theme is the collapse of Western Civilization, I would need to handle this in some way, either utilize the memories of my characters or merely mention it in passing.

I decided to honor the memory with four central chapters in which each of the four characters recalls where they were on that day, adding to their respective backstories and paying tribute to the great sacrifice of Americans, including first responders and may others who helped the horrific rescue.

And so, this week I will be posting selections from each of those chapters in honor of those who died in the greatest attack ever on U.S. soil. They are memories typical of the character’s age and disposition, memories that formed them in powerful ways. Americans will never forget.

And now, three weeks after Kabul was taken over by the same terrorists that attacked us in 2001 – the Taliban – we watch and wait and pray that our people are vigilant here on our own soil. For terrorism throughout the world is now on the rise. Our borders are porous and in many places torn down, and tyrannical regimes hate our freedoms. They hate our way of life; they hate us. And they see that we are weak and decadent, and they are right. We are.

Cleansing of the Ten Lepers

Artist unknown, 1035-1040

With these fears and thoughts running through my heart and mind, it was good to return to the Berkeley chapel to be strengthened in body and soul. The Gospel lesson was a reminder, too, of why America is a great nation, founded on great principles. The lesson was the account of Christ healing the ten lepers, and only one returns to thank him. “Where are the other nine?” he asks.

Thanking and thanksgiving are fruits of a Judeo-Christian culture. They are fruits of freedom, for they come from the heart. They give a true accounting of gifts given, an acknowledgement of the brotherhood of man, the giving and receiving freely. They are the fruits of freedom and the fruits of love. Thank-yous are one of many courtesies we learned as children to get along with one another. We learned to say the words so that one day we would feel them.

caxton's book of courtesy imageI came across an essay by John Horvat at the Imaginative Conservative site, called “Time to Return to Medieval Courtesy Books.”   He describes how the “woke” crowd of today deems civility and manners to be artificial concepts that reinforce power structures and should never be taught to children. He goes on to explore the history of manners and their teachings through “courtesy books” created in twelfth-century Christendom. These books were an attempt to instill virtue in children to aid their developing consciences, with direct instructions including table manners, sharing food, and the one command I particularly liked was, “Don’t chew with your mouth open.” This one seems to have been cast upon the wayside today, as they say. Caxton’s Book of Curtesye (1477) can be found on the Google Books site.

It is this heritage that is being attacked today, over two thousand years of nurturing ways to get along together according to the God of Abraham and his descendants, according the Western Civilization. It is this heritage of freedom that terrorists seek to destroy.

Tomorrow is Labor Day, and again, a feature of the West, the desire to work and create, to imagine and build, a desire to be celebrated and protected. The rise of labor unions in the nineteenth century was this desire to honor AMERICAN FLAGthe work of Americans and protect their rights. We honor our workers and the contributions of each and every American to this great land of liberty. We honor work by honoring the virtue of self-discipline, responsibility, and perseverance.

And so we remember nine-eleven in this aftermath of the fall of Kabul to our enemies, to those who did us such great harm. We remember, on this twentieth anniversary, why we are called to remember, to keep America free and strong, to save Western civilization from the barbarians at our gates, gates that today appear to be wide open.

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