Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Remembering Another Nine Eleven

Last weekend, I was zipping to a south county city for a meeting with a few homeschool moms. Merging onto the Crosstown, I came upon a bumper sticker printed annoyingly in lettering too small to safely read at freeway speed. It sported a slogan a procrastinator like me could warm up to: "To Finish Is To Win." If I finish anything, it is a miracle! I wanted to know more about the creator of such a motto.

I made a mental note to Google the phrase.

Unbelievably, the owner of the motto was not The Consummate Procrastinator, but the sponsor of an unusual sporting event held annually in the Sierra Nevadas. Procrastination was not the goal, but endurance.

Endurance. Put me in mind of a quote heard many times: "Not to the swift, nor to the brave, but the race goes to the one who endures to the end."

Sounds kind of Biblical, doesn't it? A quick online search indicates that is what several others thought, too. But this isn't specifically a verse in the Bible. The source for this oft-quoted but mis-credited reminder is actually a combination of two Bible verses—one acknowledging the inescapability of circumstances, the other demanding perseverance regardless of circumstances.

What is in the Bible is another Nine Eleven to keep in mind, as we pass the seventh anniversary of what no American should forget—and as we face the November event that will be our next footprint in the race to redefine ourselves as a nation for a new century:

The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Time and chance: didn't that happen to the thousands in and about the twin towers in downtown Manhattan? I'll never forget my brother-in-law's story of his eerie commute to his mid-town office that day, precisely when the attack occurred. He so often met clients from a company housed next door to the towers…often walking over to have coffee in one of those exact buildings. He could have been down there that day, that morning. He wasn't. Others were—some who probably weren't used to being in that part of town at that time, but for some reason, happened to be there. They could have been elsewhere that day, but weren't.

The story now isn't about who was there then and who wasn't. The story is about what we who remain are doing now with the repercussions of an event that will only reverberate through history in a life-changing way if we remember to let it unfold.

To put the verse, Ecclesiastes 9:11, into context, it is preceded by a warning:

"Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom."

For those of us who still are here, there is a lot to put our hands to—a lot to do with all our might. Success is all in the endurance of the message. America's Nine Eleven embedded that message deep within our national psyche.

In the aftermath of the first Nine Eleven, President George W. Bush expressed American determination to persevere in the face of our greatest tragedy:

"Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world—and no one will keep that light from shining."

While the significance of September 11, 2001, will never be erased, the impact of that day has dimmed in the American mind. Within days of the horrific attack, media and political pundits debated the "wisdom" of showing the disturbing images—what of the children? Within months, "sensitivity" training advocating an all-encompassing inclusiveness switched focus from specific perpetrators of a political act to a generic public relations program promoting acceptance of yet another religion. Within seven years, the same America that once was brought to her knees in one fifteen minute claim to infamy is now considering whether to wink at the Freudian slip of a front-runner for the highest office in the land.

Endurance is a test of who will last until the end. The Tevis Cup—the 100 mile equestrian endurance challenge—rarely sees more than fifty percent of entrants complete the course each year. The ultimate tests of humanity, in each age, will also count many losses. Not everyone will make it to the end. Many will fall—not through their own lack of bravery, skill or speed, but because of circumstances. "Circumstances" becomes the player our strategy failed to take into account.

But to succeed, those not captured by circumstances need to endure: to remember, and let that remembrance continue to make a difference. Asserting that "no one will keep that light from shining" is a hollow promise unless we take action to keep perpetuating the characteristics and values that gave that light its shine for over two centuries. He who endures to the end will be saved.

To finish is to win.

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