Someone asked me, “Where is the hope in a tragic event like 9/11?” This question cuts to the core of our deepest beliefs about God, about people, and about ourselves.

Of course, I don’t see hope when I look at the horrific events that took place and the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives, or even double that number of people who were injured. And the lingering trauma that most people carry with them as a result of simply observing the horror, should not be discounted by any means.

What happened that day still brings up so many feelings, almost two decades later: anger, grief, shock. But also, confusion— how could this have happened? And fear and anxiety — could this happen again?

All of these feelings were re-awakened this summer when I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, PA, the site of the crash of the United jet that was presumably heading for the U.S. Capitol. Of the four hijacked planes that day, this flight was the only one that didn’t reach its intended target, mostly due to the incredible bravery of the passengers and crew who decided to fight against the terrorists. At the memorial, I listened to recordings of cell phone calls from people on the plane to their family members. I was so moved by the raw emotions conveyed. I bawled like I hadn’t in a long while.

For me, hope showed up in how people responded to the tragedy. The passengers who decided to fight against the hijackers, like Todd Beamer who prayed the Lord’s Prayer, and then said, “Let’s roll.” People who ran into the collapsing, burning towers believing they could rescue someone. People sifting through the rubble, hoping to find a survivor. People who were hurt and broken choosing to find others who were hurting more, offering help and compassion.

There’s even a hope in our mourning. A mourning that says, “it shouldn’t be this way.” Hope says things should be better than this, that they can be better than this. And then hope grows deeper as we decide to do our part to help the world be a better, more loving, less fearful place.

Hope isn’t in the tragedy but shows up in how we respond to it.

Whenever something horrible happens to us, we get to decide how we’re going to respond to it. We all know people who have chosen to be bitter and cynical, complaining about everything and everyone. This comes out of how they’ve been hurt. If you believe you’re a victim and live blaming everybody else for your problems, you’ll begin to see more and more proof to justify your claims.

But we don’t have to settle for living under the rubble. Some of the most beautiful people I know are ones who have been through hell and have chosen to keep walking, head held high, thanking God for saving them. They use their own pain as a source of compassion toward other hurting people. They carry their scars as a reminder of where they’ve been, not where they’re living.

For me to live this kind of hope, I have to continually decide to let go of fear and anxiety, choosing to find peace and love that God has put inside of me, and then give that away at every opportunity. To choose to keep rebuilding after the dust settles. To keep believing good can still come out of this mess. To believe that God is in the middle of even this, somehow bringing meaning and purpose to even the most tragic circumstances.

Photo by Jesse Mills on Unsplash