Memorial Stones

 

These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever. – Joshua 4:7 (NIV)

Sept. 11, 2001, dawned clear and bright. Fall was in the air—in the coolness of the misty morning, in the hints of red, yellow and orange beginning to splash the hillsides, in the honking of geese winging overhead. America shut off the alarm clock, rolled out of bed, opened the curtains and let in the day. With coffee in hand, we set off to work.

By 9 a.m. our world had profoundly, irreversibly changed. By noon we’d gone from disbelief to numbing shock. By evening we vowed, “We will not forget!”

And we haven’t. One of the most tragic days in American history was also one of our finest. We looked in the mirror on that watershed day and said, “We are America.” And then we showed the world what makes America the greatest nation on earth.

America is a land of opportunity. We still open our arms to the tired, poor, huddling masses yearning to breathe free. To those homeless, tempest-tossed souls the lamp is still lifted beside the golden door. In every community modern day immigrants practice medicine, serve cultural cuisine, sell cars. Some are so desperate they sneak in. Don’t let anyone fool you. Opportunities abound in the home of the brave. But that isn’t what makes America great.

America is a land of prosperity. We have houses for our cars. We have closets jam-packed with clothes we grew out of or that we forgot we owned. We have winter clothes and summer clothes. We have footwear for every occasion. We have everyday dishes and good dishes. We have bank accounts, credit cards, investments, retirement plans. We have boats and swimming pools and RVs and motorcycles and four-wheelers and garages so full of stuff that we don’t have room for the car. We eat three square meals a day and then some. Diet and exercise businesses are booming. But our material wealth isn’t what makes America great.

America is the land of the free. We work and still have time to play. We race cars and horses and the clock. We are free to worship and work where we choose. We are free from want and, for the most part, from fear. We have homeless shelters and Homeland Security. We have soup kitchens and supersonic jets. We have policemen, firemen, EMTs, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the military protecting and aiding us. We can be whatever we want to be, go where we want to go. We can choose who, what, when, where, and how. We have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But freedom isn’t what makes America great.

What, then, makes America great?

Its generous heart, resilient spirit and can-do attitude. The Spirit of America born on the shores of Plymouth Rock nearly four centuries ago was found on Sept. 11, 2001, in the rubble that was the World Trade Center and in the wreckage of a plane that slammed into a Pennsylvania field.

Plymouth+Rock+%284%29.jpg (390×260)

On a memorial stone, those stalwart Pilgrims inscribed: “This spot marks the final resting place of the Pilgrims of the Mayflower. In weariness and hunger and in cold, fighting the wilderness and burying their dead in common graves that the Indians should not know how many had perished, they here laid the foundations of a state for which all men for countless ages should have liberty to worship God in their own way. All ye who pass by and see this stone, remember, and dedicate yourselves anew to the resolution that you will not rest until this lofty ideal shall have been realized throughout the earth.”

We will not forget Sept. 11, 2001. We will not forget that for a moment evil prevailed. We will not forget how, by the grace of God, we rolled up our sleeves and went to work, fighting that evil with goodness. We will not forget who and what we are. Let our memorial stones reflect the spirit of America.

God, bless America, land that I love. Amen.

Read and reflect on Joshua 4:1–9, 20–24.

From God, Me, & a Cup of Tea for the Seasons, © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.

People gather around stones that are part of a new 9/11 Memorial Glade on May 30 on the grounds of the National September Memorial and Museum after the Glade's dedication ceremony in New York. Set in a glade of trees during the spring 2019, the granite slabs recognize an initially unseen toll of the 2001 terror attacks: firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to toxins unleashed in the wreckage.

People gather around stones that are part of a new 9/11 Memorial Glade on May 30 on the grounds of the National September Memorial and Museum after the Glade’s dedication ceremony in New York. Set in a glade of trees during the spring 2019, the granite slabs recognize an initially unseen toll of the 2001 terror attacks: firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to toxins unleashed in the wreckage. (AP file photo)

A Better Life

The second SS Kaiser Wilhelm II, named for the German Emperor, was a 19,361 gross ton passenger ship built at Stettin, Germany. The ship was completed in the spring of 1903. The ship was seized by the U.S. Government during World War I, and subsequently served as a transport ship under the name USS Agamemnon. 

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. –Colossians 3:23 NIV

On April 26, 1910, my grandmother, Anna Bortnik, boarded the Kaiser Wilhelm II in Bremen, Germany, after traveling across Europe from her native village of Lenarts, Hungary. Nine days later she arrived in New York. She was seventeen years old. The only language she knew was Slovak.

In the early 1900s America was the place to be. Like my grandmother, they came from all over Europe, bringing their work ethic to steel mills, coal mines, factories and farms. No job was too menial—to them it was an opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.

My grandmother found employment in a sewing factory in New Jersey until she married a steel mill worker. Mike Demchak, a widower, took her home to a ready-made family in the Monongahela Valley near Pittsburgh. There she raised nine children alone after Mike died of pneumonia in 1934, while the country was in the throes of the Great Depression. One by one, her children dropped out of school to support the family, while she took in washing and ironing.

I once asked my mother how they survived the Depression.

“We were so poor we didn’t even know there was a Depression,” she said.

By today’s standards, my grandmother had a hard life. Yet I never heard her complain. From her perspective, what was there to complain about? She had a roof over her head, food in the pantry, and clothes enough for every season.

For the most part, my grandparents’ generation, through their hard work, succeeded in making better lives for themselves and their children. In the process, they created a better world.

Work gives our lives purpose and meaning. Even in perfect Eden, Adam and Eve had a job to do: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).

Too often, though, we see work as drudgery, something that must be endured for us to survive. We feel like the ditch digger, caught in a deadening, joy-stealing cycle: “I digga the ditch to make the money to buy the food to give me the strength to digga the ditch.”

But work was meant to be enjoyable and rewarding: “Then I realized it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and find satisfaction in his toilsome labor . . . to accept his lot and be happy in his work,” Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 5:18–19).

The fruit of our labor is ours to enjoy: “You will eat the fruit of your labor” (Psalm 128:2).

Let not Labor Day be only a day that marks the end of the summer season and the start of the new school year. Let it be what it was created to be: a tribute to the workers of America and a celebration of their achievements. For hard work is what made this country great, and hard work is what will keep it great.

Father, bless the workers of this nation. May they find in their jobs fulfillment of the purpose You have for each one. Amen.

NOTE: I obtained important information about my grandmother from the ship’s manifest, which I was able to view online on the Ellis Island Website: www.ellisisland.org/

While researching my grandmother’s journey, I discovered that the country of Czechoslovakia wasn’t established until 1918 – eight years after she immigrated to the US. Although my grandmother had lived in Hungary, her ethnic background was Slovak.

Read and meditate on Ecclesiastes 5:18–20 and Ephesians 6:5–9.

From God, Me, and a Cup of Tea for the Seasons, © 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved. Used with permission.