Any American adult can tell you what they were doing when they first heard of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The horrifying news seared into our memories.
And most adults can also tell you where they turned for solace that day. Worrying about an uncertain future, parents clung to one another and to their children a little tighter. Friends pushed aside overcrowded to-do lists to reconnect and reassure.
But mostly we prayed.
The prayers of 9/11 were spontaneous and fervent. They plead on behalf of the victims and their families. They offered gratitude for the courage of emergency responders. They asked for wisdom to guide those entrusted with our national security. They appealed for protection. And they sought for understanding.
As the nation marks the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, there is still a search for understanding. The anniversary provides the benefit of hindsight to evaluate the strategic and tactical responses to al-Qaida's attack.
The decision after 9/11 to invoke both the metaphors and instruments of war rather than those of criminal justice fundamentally changed American national security and intelligence.
Some of the results have been straightforward. The perpetrators of 9/11 are now captured or destroyed. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al-Qaida has been significantly degraded. And the nation has been spared another catastrophic terrorist attack.
But the decision to militarize our counterterrorism has also come with significant costs, especially for those families whose sons and daughters have faced combat. Although America answered 9/11 with extraordinary military might, it tried to maintain peacetime economy. Many contentious fiscal concerns come from borrowing to wage the long war on terror.
Today is not the day to determine whether the benefits of the strategic response to 9/11 outweigh its costs. Time will tell.
But after 10 years, we can say something about the benefit that came from the prayers of 9/11. In retrospect, those fervent prayers cost us very little: a momentary pause, a bowed head, perhaps a bended knee.
But the benefit of millions of individuals pleading to one God for answers and intervention in the face of unspeakable evil was enormous. Obviously those prayers couldn't bring back the precious mortal lives of those who were eradicated that day, but they did provide hope and comfort to those left behind. The prayers of 9/11 didn't lessen the cruel burden of those who responded, but they helped to strengthen resolve.
By turning instinctively and fervently to God our individual hearts were both softened and unified. It seemed that in the days that followed it was easier to listen and to give, harder to take offence.
The urgency of 9/11's horrors has faded. But as we recall the shock that we experienced that day, we should also recall where we spontaneously turned for solace and the gentle efficacy of those prayers. After 10 years, our need for comfort, wisdom, protection and understanding has not diminished.