He was the kind of guy that when he smiled at you, you smiled back. Not necessarily because you wanted to, but because you were afraid not to.
If he had told me to give him my seat, I would’ve hopped up faster than I would have if I’d heard Tiffany’s was giving away free jewelry.
It was the summer of 2003, and Larry and I had taken the kids to New York City.
We’d just viewed the cataclysmic hole that had once been the Twin Towers. We stared in disbelief and remembered, all too vividly, the horror we’d watched on TV.
We were numb.
Lunch was the last thing on our minds after feeling as if we’d been kicked in the gut all over again, but three young kids can’t last long without food.
In a city where you can eat about anything you want, I found myself at Burger King because I’d never quite figured out how all the other moms could get their kids to eat anything more extravagant than burgers and fries.
That’s where I sat with Bobby, Brittany, and Carolyn when this hulk of a man, dressed in leather sitting next us, smiled at me.
I smiled back and, being properly raised in the South, I even spoke. Within a minute, I realized that I wouldn’t have wanted to be sitting anywhere else in all of NYC.
Having been pegged as tourists, (was it our array of NY souvenirs we wore or our southern accents?), he asked us what we’d seen.
No sooner had we mentioned the 9/11 site (it wasn’t even a memorial at that point) than our new friend, a welder by trade, began sharing his experience of being down inside that hole of death, seeing things he’ll never be able to unsee no matter how desperately he wished he could.
He spent months excavating the site during the day and battling the nightmares at night. But he wasn’t bitter.
His eyes looked sad as he spoke of things he’d seen, but there was also pride and hope as he talked of all the people who’d come together to turn this tragedy into a triumph.
He showed off the patches he’d been given for his service, and he beamed when I asked if I could take a picture of him with the kids.
Hate had ripped a hole into the ground and into the lives of thousands on September 11, 2001.
Love had brought strangers, a city, and a nation together.
Hate created enemies as they reached their hands out to crush our strength, will, and hearts.
Love created friends as strangers reached out to strangers with hands filled with hope.
Hate sought to shatter our nation into pieces.
Love united our nation.
Love never fails for it is always stronger than hate.
For that, I’m eternally grateful.
God’s hatred of sin and evil is more intense than the hatred any terrorist has felt, but the terrorist’s hate is based on lies. God’s is based on righteousness and truth, and it’s rooted in love.
If God treated us according to His hatred of our sin, none of us could stand.
God’s hatred of sin has every right to call for our destruction. In His pure holiness, God has the absolute right to demand we pay the penalty for our sin.
Thankfully, God’s love and mercy are infinite. They are so infinite that, while we were yet sinners – enemies of God – He chose to take our sins and rebellion that are all against Him, and hang them onto His own Son.
He chose to allow His own Son to die, paying the penalty we owed, so that we didn’t have to die.
Christ endured what we could not have endured, so that our sins wouldn’t destroy us — so that we could be restored to Him.
Hate didn’t send Christ to the cross, love did. And hate couldn’t keep Him in the grave. He rose again to life so that we may live.
Hate brought death and destruction to America, but it couldn’t keep us in the grave. Love raised us back out of the ashes. Love brings freedom from the grave.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”
~ I Corinthians 13:13
Our New Yorker friend reached out to us from across a table at Burger King because he’d seen hatred and he’d seen love — he chose to cling to love.
He chose to let his 9/11 experience mold and shape him into a man who uses his hands to rebuild, make friends, and spread love while there’s still time.
Love united our nation and turned strangers into friends over a burger and a smile.
Who knew we’d taste of the most extravagant fare in a Burger King?!