Religious studies teacher Stephen Mufuka gave this chapel talk to the school community on the twentieth anniversary of September 11, 2001
It has been 20 years since the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon took place; A time before many of you here were even born. However, I remember that day vividly. On September 11, 2001, I was living on the Upper West Side of New York, finishing up my master's in religious studies. Before this time, I had previously spent four years in the Marine Corps. For the most part, those four years were unremarkable, as those years were in the late 1990s, when there were no wars and no real threats facing the United States. I spent those four years mostly training in the Mojave Desert, waiting for a call to deploy somewhere in the world on a moment's notice. However, that call did not take place. After four years, I thought it was time to move on. My interest had changed, and I guess you could say that I was on the spiritual path.
The night before September 11, 2001, I had gone to a concert at Madison Square Garden and as a result didn’t get back until the early morning hours of the 11th. At around 9:30 in the morning, I got a phone call from my friend, Capt. Parker, who was sitting in the operation center at the Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The first words out of his mouth were, “What is going on?” Still a little groggy from waking up, I think I responded with, “What do you mean?” To which he replied, “It looks like we have been attacked.”
That day I remember watching the news all day and occasionally going up to the roof of my apartment to check if I could see any of the smoke from the World Trade Center. I can’t really remember if it was later that day or a couple of days later that I had another phone conversation with Capt. Parker; however, I do remember, still filled with anger, that I told him, “Joe, I want back in.” After I said these words there was a moment where the line went silent before Capt. Parker replied in a soft voice signifying that he understood my emotion. “If you are serious," he said, "I know a guy who can make it happen. He can bring you back on duty.” A week after this conversation, I had received orders bringing me back on activity duty.
As Reverend Hutchinson likes to say: We are all called to serve. September 11 was that call for me, and for many others as well.
When I think about September 11, I think about the call that rang through all those firehouses in New York City that day, as firemen raced into the abyss. I think of the call that came across the police wire, ordering all officers to proceed to the World Trade Center or to the Pentagon. I think of the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of men and women in the Armed Forces, whose units were eventually called to deploy to Afghanistan in the following months and years in order to take part in the war. However, I also think about how after September 11, the world was united for a brief moment. In the hours after 9/11, many countries came together in support of the United States with a unified message: “Today, we are all Americans.” Inside the United States, people of all races and creeds came together. They filled the churches, synagogues, and mosques in solidarity. However, more importantly, I think about how many countries answered the call by sending troops in support of the War on Terror. Countries such as Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Jordan, Germany, Poland, Mongolia, Netherlands, Ukraine, Georgia and many, many more who sent their sons and daughters to fight along the United States in foreign lands. This assembly of nations fighting together was called a coalition. However, as for me, I called it a family.
When I think about those who lost their lives on September 11 and throughout the last 20 years, I often think: What would those individuals who died at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, or on battlefields abroad want us to remember on this day? In this regard, I can’t help but feel that they would want us to remember two things: First, that we are all a family. Second, that in this precious thing we call life, we are all called to a higher purpose, which is to protect our family. Those firemen, police, and military understood this because they have all taken an oath and live by a motto: whether it is "to protect and serve" as it is for the police, Semper Fidelis for the Marines, which means "always faithful," or my personal favorite, which is the fireman's creed:
“When I am called to duty, God, wherever flames may rage, give me the strength to save a life, whatever be its age.”
So, I ask all of you who are gathered here today, in memoriam, let us remember that we are all a family, and let us renew our commitment to serve each other.