Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Pain, Suffering, and Loss Are Part of Life

The term "9-11" brings back vivid memories. It is shorthand for terror and disaster.   

You do not have to explain that the reference is to September 11, 2001 when 19 terrorists took control of four commercial airliners. Three of the planes, heavily laden with fuel, crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Another plane believed to be headed for either the White House or the Capitol crashed in Pennsylvania as passengers struggled with the hijackers. Nearly 3,000 people died and billions of dollars of property damage resulted.

The world changed on that day. Not just for Americans but for people everywhere.

Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of that day of destruction. The National 9/11 Memorial was dedicated in New York City on the site of the Twin Towers. It opens to the public today. The memorial features the country's largest man-made waterfalls dramatically cascading into two sunken pools that mark the footprints of the Twin Towers. The names of 2,980 victims have been etched in granite around the edges of the memorial. This day of tragedy was commemorated across the country with much sadness and grief.

While I remember and mourn the events of 9-11-2001, September 11 is a very important day in my family for a very different reason. That day marks the birthday of our first born child. Jason celebrated his 40th birthday yesterday.  

As the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks approached in 2002 I wondered how we should anticipate that day. Would it be inappropriate to be in a celebratory mood on such a solemn occasion? Should we downplay Jason's birthday as we joined millions of others in a day of mourning? We certainly did not want to disrespect the thousands of people who had lost so much just one year earlier nor did we want to appear to minimize their loss.


That dilemma helped me to understand that life is always a blend of joy and sorrow. Births and deaths occur simultaneously. Victory and defeat go hand in hand. High and low moments balance one another.


Along with millions of others, I was severely affected by the horrible events of September 11, 2001 but I did not suffer the loss of a loved one. I cannot imagine the pain that many experienced and have lived with since that day. My heart aches for the families and friends of those who died.


At the same time I cannot ignore the gift of life and the blessing of that (now adult) child that God brought into our lives in 1971. Pain, suffering, and loss are very much a part of life. Joy, celebrations, and blessings of all sorts are also gifts from God. It is not easy to overcome tragedy and recover from loss but we must allow God to heal our memories and to direct our thoughts to the good things that come our way.


We will all face troubles and trials during our lives, but the psalmist reminds us that "at night we may cry, but when morning comes we will celebrate" (Psalm 30:5) because of the goodness of God.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," Sept. 12, 2011. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]