It was just over two years ago that I bought my 2001 Mazda Protege from a local dealer. But it was almost a year later that someone pointed out the unusual nature of my licence plate number — “911 ARG!” I didn’t even think about it when I bought the car and got my licence plates.
Today, on this fifth Anniversary of the Towers’ Crash in New York City, by the television replay of scenes from that fateful day, we are being graphically reminded of the sudden tragic loss of so many lives and of the radical effect this event had on all of us. At the time, those images were so vivid and emotionally shocking that we all will never forget exactly where we were and what we were doing when we first saw and heard the terrible news. Because of that day, a lot changed for all of us.
I don’t know how or why I ended up with a licence identification of “911-ARG!” Perhaps it is a way to remind others of the reality and tragedy of that woeful day when we in the west especially were brought to our knees in humility, repentance and need. Maybe it’s God’s special way of reminding me of my own 911 more than three years ago when I was suddenly “hit,” seemingly from nowhere, by my own personal loss. Today, three years later, I am still deeply affected by the reality of that event. Though God has been gracious to me and helped me recover in so many ways, there is a real sense in which I am still seeking to get fully back on my feet. I’m discovering that the road back to full emotional/spiritual strength for any who face serious loss is a lot further than people ordinarily imagine.
“911 ARG” is truly an identification of suffering — my own as welll as that of so many others. It is God’s way of reminding me that we all have our “911 ARG” experiences. It certainly is not something peculiar to my own life. And it comes in many different forms — accident, disease, sudden loss of money or property, personal attack, rejection, and death. Through our own “911 ARG” experiences we become more concious of the wide-spread reality of suffering and our need to be sensitive to suffering in the lives of others. If there is one thing we all noticed as a result of the 9/11 event in New York, it was that people were more willing than ever to reach out to others just like themselves who were going through deep suffering.
“911 ARG” is not only a fitting symbol of suffering; it is much more! It reminds me of the peculiar nature of suffering as a gift (of which much has been written) — because it makes us concious of our need for God and His grace as nothing else really can. During this time of my own loss I have come to experience God’s presence and peace in a way that is more precious than I have ever known before. I have fallen in love with the Psalms because they speak so candidly of the writer’s spiritual and emotional anguish in the face of suffering. And they also proclaim the simplicity and beauty of hope in God when all else is gone.
There are many examples, but a recent favourite would be Psalm 39:12 and 13. “Hear my prayer, O Lord! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears. For I am a guest — a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me. Spare me so I can smile again before I am gone and exist no more.”
And so I give thanks to God for my distinctive licence plate, because it reminds me, and possibly others, of the grace that God pours out in our suffering — not as an end in itself, but as a means for us to enter into a deeper experience of our great great need for Him so that He Himself really does become the satisfaction of our souls.