Beauty from ashes and honoring lives lost

Published 6:45 pm Monday, September 12, 2022

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I remember the day in 1974 when I stood on the Observation Deck of one of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in New York City. I will never forget the magnificence of that day. I could see for miles around the city. The sky was a glorious breath-taking blue, and there were so many visitors from around the world there with me. They spoke so many different languages and I understood none of them.

But the things we all had in common that needed no words were a sense of great awe, smiles that became our language, and many of us had tears in our eyes, because of the magnitude of wonder that we were experiencing. I made my way to a pay phone and called my mom back in Washington. “Ma” I said, “I wish you were here to see all this. I am standing on top of a building that is the tallest in the world.  Ma, when you come to New York, you have to experience this.”  When we hung up, I kept thinking about the beloved hymn, ‘How Great Thou Art.’  Only a great God could give man the ability to create things and buildings so beautiful, and I was grateful to be standing on top of one of them.

Fast forward to September 11, 2001. I was on the school’s playground during recess with my class, when a teacher brought her class outside to join us, and asked with tears in her eyes, “Miss Leesa, what do you think all this means?” Stunned, I asked what happened. She said “Miss Leesa, the World Trade Centers have been bombed or something, two planes flew into them.”  The buildings are collapsing in ashes, ashes are everywhere.”

We both felt so helpless and afraid. We had many young children we knew we had to protect and we had no idea what to do next.  We were told to get the children inside and go to our safe places in the classroom until parents could be called to come and take their children home. Inside my classroom room, I tried to keep my composure and prayed. I didn’t know what to think, but I did think about what my grandparents told me about the day Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked.  They said they were terrified as they gleaned whatever information they could get from the radio that day.  What struck me most was how I was experiencing what they had experienced in some ways. And the one thing that I recalled to my mind were their words, “in all that’s evil, God will prevail over it. He alone brings beauty from ashes.”

Twenty-one years later, I still cannot believe the Twin Towers are gone, although in my many trips to New York City their absence tells me they are. And in all that has happened in the world since then, my grandparents words are steeped in my soul. In all that can be evil, God will prevail over it. Only a great God can give us the ability to create beautiful things. And our lives can be examples of the beauty He wants to create in us and around us. We have the ability to make our world beautiful. Some will look at the world and see utter despair, and some will see darkness. But many will see His bright guiding light.   And we have in ourselves the ability to paint our world with His love, peace, dignity and respect for all people. If we use wide brush strokes of His love and grace, we can brighten some of the despair around us. God will help us bring beauty from ashes. Remembering the lives lost, the lives forever changed on September 11, 2001, let’s honor those lives by being good to one another.

Leesa Jones is a Washington native and the co-founder and co-executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.