Sunday, September 11, 2011

ten years ago

(Picture via my brother Carter.)
I spoke in church today about the Plan of Salvation. It has been ten years to the day since the attacks on the World Trade Center and I felt lucky to have been able to speak on such a historic occasion. The topic for the talk was inspired and  I felt impressed to focus on Agency and life after death: what better way to honor those that died than to talk about how their lives continue on? Here's what I said:

Ten years ago I was sitting in my high school cafeteria in study hall when an announcement came over the PA system that two planes had just flown into the Twin Towers. We were to be kept in our classes until further notice. Living in New Jersey in a town that was considered a suburb of New York, meant that many of the kids at my high school had parents who worked in New York, some of them in the World Trade Center. My dad was out of town and unknown to me had been in two of the three airports that very day where airplanes had been high-jacked. It was an unreal time: I remember thinking that it didn’t seem possible, that there had to be an understandable explanation for what was happening.

I remember sitting at a candle light vigil in the park downtown in honor of those who had died. There was a man sitting a few rows in front of me and my family who was sobbing uncontrollably. At the end of the service they asked people to say the names of those who they’d known who had died to honor and remember them: this man seemed to name everyone he knew. It was clear he had worked in the towers and for whatever reason, either he hadn’t been there or he was out of the office on an errand, but he had survived and no one else he knew from his job had. As he said name after name my dad leaned over to me and verbalized, “He must have worked there” and as a freshman in high school I just remember it being something happening around me, but not to me.

Often people ask, “If there is a God why does he let terrible things happen in the world?” My answer to that question is that it is because of Agency.

Agency is the faculty and privilege that God has given man to choose and act for themselves. This is God's plan. Everyone has the ability to choose good or evil "to choose life of death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you" (Heleman 14:31). Choices have consequences: we can choose our choices but we cannot choose our consequences. Sometimes people get hurt or killed because of someone else exercising their agency. But sometimes people are saved, or sometimes we just strengthen ourselves. We can choose to be baptized, to go through the temple, to fast, to say a prayer before going to bed at night, to stay when faced with danger to help someone else, to bear your testimony or to remain silent. A decision can be as small as a flippant remark made to someone in passing, or as huge as what happened on September 11th, 2001. But regardless of our circumstances, the Lord is mindful of us.

I was talking to my mom earlier this week and she told me about this interview that she had heard on the radio. Deputy Chief Jay Jonas was a firefighter who was on the fourth floor of the North Tower when it collapsed. He and his men had stopped their decent on their way out of the building to try and help a woman who was badly injured. They knew that stopping to help her and bring her with them would slow them down, but they also knew that their job was to help save people, so that is what they did. Here's part of that interview:
GROSS: You say in the book that you don't like it when people say to you: You survived because God was with you. Why don't you like it when people say that?

Mr. JONAS: Well, first of all it's a little pompous to say that you are a miracle, you know. But second of all, by them saying that God was with me that day you're also kind of saying that God was not with them that day, and that's certainly not the case. You know, I think of the one radio transmission between Chief Pete Hayden and Captain Paddy Brown. Chief Hayden is talking to him as we're coming down the stairs and I'm hearing this over the radio. Pete Hayden is calling Captain Paddy Brown on the radio. He says Command Post to Ladder 3, get out of the building. Get out of the building. And Paddy Brown gets on the radio and he says I refuse the order, which is unbelievable, you know, that somebody would say that. He says I refuse the order. I'm up here on the 44th floor and I've got too many burnt people with me. I'm not leaving them. You know, it still sends shivers up my spine hearing that. And...

GROSS: I take it he did not survive.

Mr. JONAS: No. Paddy Brown, all the men from Ladder 3 and all the people that they were treating all died in the collapse.

Making the right choice does not always save us from pain or death. In the Book of Mormon the prophet Abinadi is first protected so that he can preach to the people, but later is burned alive as he continues to testify to the unrepentant people. Chief Jay Jonas survived against all odds while helping a woman but Captain Paddy Brown did not, though he too did not abandon those who needed his help. All of these men made the right decision.

The choices we make have consequences both in this life and in the world to come because our existence does not cease after this life. We continue to learn, grow, and progress. After death our spirits go the the Spirit World. It is here that the righteous find peace and rest and those that were not are taught and given the opportunity to accept saving ordinances done for them on Earth so that they too can find peace and rest.

God gives us so many chances to do the right thing, both while we are hear on Earth and in the afterlife. He does this because of his deep love for us. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we are all able to continue to progress in righteousness, even after we have sinned, strayed, or even died.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53:3-5
I am so grateful for my knowledge of these principles and for the constant and abiding love of our Lord. In this life terrible and sometimes seemingly senseless things can happen, but at the same time some heart-breakingly beautiful and selfless choices can be made. And of that I bear witness.


Anonymous said...

Hi Cassie! I don`t know if you remember me... I attended your ward in New Jersey in the Summer of 2010. My name is Anna, I`m from Brazil. Well, just passing to say hello! Your blog is really cool! I`ll keep following it! :)

Cassandra said...

Thanks, Anna! I do remember you! Great to run into here in blog-land. I hope you continue to enjoy the blog!