Remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus Prayer Breakfast
Good morning. Today, on this day of remembrance and mourning, we have the Lord's word to get us through. "The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place."
And let me show you how we are building and putting cedars in those three hallowed places—the footprints of the Towers, the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania. Walk with me through this day and you will see that this is a season of hope.
For at this moment, just outside of New York, a mother laces up her daughter's shoes. And they are ready to start their long walk through this day. The daughter is two and a half. She can say his name, "Dad." She can point to his picture, but she does not know him.
On this day, they go to Central Park to remember with the other families. Then, they head downtown to place a flower where he died—the once tall tower where he left his first, last and only message addressed to her. And they return home still in their Sunday bests after a Saturday of sorrow.
So walk with me through this day.
Today, a town gathers in front of their church. It is a town where so many—53—were taken before their time. For a week after that September day, the Lord's doors were open. The Lord's doors were open for that hour of loneliness just before dawn. That night when the silence inside the house was too much to bear. And for that moment when just missing their wife, their husband and the love of their life was the greatest pain they'd ever known.
But today, they are there to ring a new church bell—a gift born out of their grief. They want it to ring from the bell tower to ensure that "sorrow and sighing shall flee away." That bell will toll for the souls gone home. It will toll for those who still weep. And it will toll for those who rejoice in life's great gifts.
Walk with me through this day.
And across our great river, the men and women who stood at their posts at the Pentagon; who helped rescue the wounded and carried the dying, and who still guard their post at this moment will pause in a sea of stone and valor. They will lay a wreath. They will pray onward soldier you answered your calling here but your work is not done in the Lord's house. And they will pray for those whose wounds have not healed—the burns that cause them great pain every time they reach out to hold their wife's hand until the stars rise and the night falls on this day in September.
So walk with me through this day.
To that field in Pennsylvania where—the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors of that day's warriors—will stand in the middle of all things beautiful. They will read the names of those who charged. Those who fought back. Those who never gave up so that evil never had the chance to finish its plan. They come together, as their loved ones did, to find hope in the middle of the Lord's green field.
They will sing. They will pray. And they will lay a wreath where Flight 93 fell. And in a place where smoke once rose, you and I we will see that cedar rising.
Walk with me through this day.
At this hour and all day long, strangers will follow the Lord's wish. In memory and in the hope that goodwill and grace will always triumph out of tragedy, they will give. In "a day's payment of service," New York City firefighters will give and fly to California to help rebuild homes destroyed in the fires. Businessmen from Long Island will give and take sick kids to a ball game. Men and women in Memphis will give and build wheelchair ramps for the disabled. And there are thousands standing in Afghanistan, standing in the very place where evil grew, giving their service to ensure that evil never rises again.
These Americans will give because so many were taken from us. And for them—the three strangers who came together to start this day of service—a mother who lost her son, a brother who lost a brother, and a friend who lost a friend—for them September 11th is never in the past; it is enduring. It is never just an anniversary; it is a time of renewal for each and every one of us to do God's work here on earth.
So walk with me through this day.
At this breakfast, our prayers will be heard and answered for those who still need comfort. They need a hand to hold as they try over and over again to forget the crashing windows, the fire, and the falling steel that took their coworkers but not them. They need the comfort of prayers as they sit in solitude. They have their head in their hands as they wonder like the other tens of thousands who walked out—why I lived and the others did not. And they need to know that we are with them even when it feels like we aren't as they try to rebuild their lives without.
Whether it's one year, two years, three years or until our short time on this earth comes to an end. Those who lost that day will always miss them. Those who worked night and day until the last cart was carried out of Ground Zero will always know they did their best. And those who unfurled their flags, gave blood, comforted a child who lost their Dad, and made that day the defining day for them to leave their mark on this earth—we will always remember that unity of purpose.
Walk with me through this day. And you will see that while those bricks fell and the sycamores cut down, our people are making those cedars rise.
"And let us not grow weary in well-doing for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart."
And let us not grow weary of taking care of those families. Let us not grow weary of praying for those soldiers who defend us from that evil at this hour. Let us not grow weary for giving up a day in our lives for those who are gone. And let us not grow weary in our determination to never forget, to never grow indifferent to what occurred that dark day in September.
This season of hope does not have to end tomorrow. We do not have to wait for yet another anniversary to come and go. We know what we want in this country. We want that one America.
There have been few times when we saw the possibilities of one America more than on September 11, 2001. All Americans, black and white, young and old, rich and poor, were bound together in tragedy and resolve to ensure that once again good triumphed over evil.
Sitting here today, after so long in the desert, it may seem like a mirage. But we know it is real, and that it is possible because we have seen it. We want one America. We want that hope, that faith, and that purpose without the tears, the pain, and the sorrow.
You know, I have learned two lessons in my life. One is that there will always be heartache and struggle in our lives. We can't make it go away. And the other is that people of good will can make a difference. One lesson is sad and the other is inspiring. And walking together through this day, we choose to be inspired because we know that we can fulfill the promise.
In times like these, if we can work together, comfort together, and help communities rebuild together, then let's do that for all of the challenges that exists right now and build one America.
For that child we see every day sitting on the front step, locked out and alone, let's work together to give him a safe place to go with friends and teachers while his mom works.
For that mother who works hard all day—forty hours plus a week—and she still has to sit at the kitchen table and divide her bills into pay now and pay later, let's work together to give her a country that honors work so she can get ahead.
For that whole town that's watched their factory lock its doors, let's work together to make sure that we bring opportunity and an equal chance to their front door.
For that young boy who always sits in the back of the classroom unable to read the basic instructions, but is too scared to ask for help, let's build him a school that's a palace for learning so no child is ever afraid to ask for help.
And for that family we know on every street. The mother and father are working hard. He takes the late-bus to work and she takes the early bus. They're doing what's right, what they're supposed to do to take care of their family. And yet later tonight, they might have to put their kids to bed hungry again because they can't afford dinner on a Saturday.
So let's work together to end poverty. Now some are going to say "end poverty" you can't do that. That's something we've been fighting for centuries. We just have to live with it. Says who?
Anything is possible in this country when you and I work together. If we put a man on the moon; if we conquered diseases like polio; if we can live through a terrible day like September 11th , then we can build the Lord's house in every heart and home across this land.
Some days sorrow just storms in doesn't it. You wake up one beautiful morning and the kingdom is at hand. You're on your way to work, to school, or to fly west to see your family. You're washing down the fire truck or walking the halls in the Pentagon. You're waving good bye to your young son on his first day at his new job. You're just talking on the phone with your child. And then sorrow hits.
It never asks if it can drop by. It doesn't knock. And it never asks if you're ready. It just hits and knocks everything down. And the next day, grief washes over thousands and sorrow surrounds us.
But we know how to beat it back. In America, we always rise up. Sometimes not on the first day or the second day, but we begin to rise up and build something new.
This is who we are, and this is the eternal spirit of America.
That is why that young girl who never knew her father, will feel the comfort of millions as we walk with her through this day and her life. That is why the men and women at the Pentagon will feel the prayers of millions as they salute their fallen. That is why the families in Pennsylvania will know that we weep with them. That is why the firefighters and police officers who miss their brothers will know that we miss them too. And that is why a new bell tolls in a church on the other side of the Hudson River.
You and I, we hear it. It tolls once for the dead. It tolls a second time for the mournful. And the third time, it tolls for us. It tolls for us to seek joy in our families, comfort in our children, and hope in our neighbors.
Each time that bell tolls, it calls us to a greater purpose. It calls us to never forget. It calls us to do the Lord's work here on earth. And it calls on us to always remember that when we walk through this day together—the cedars will rise, the stones will go up, and this season of hope will endure.
Thank you and God bless you, the families and friends who mourn, and our great United States of America.
John Edwards, Remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus Prayer Breakfast Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/284860