FWD: FACT OR FICTION?

A friend of mine sent me an inspirational story by way of email (aka “fwd”). It was a very moving story, but before I hit the infamous “fwd” button, I decided to investigate it’s validity. I’m sad to say that the prevalence of email urban legends has made me quite cynical about anything I receive as a forward. I also once got an angry email from someone whose poem I had posted on my website. Since I had received it as a forward with no author’s name on it, I posted it as anonymous, and the author got upset because it was a published poem. So, I now try to find the origin of a forward before I send it on to others or post it on my website or blog. In this case, I was unable to find a true origin of the story, and found some information that cast a shadow of doubt on its validity. But when I sent the information I found to my friend, she responded by questioning whether it was necessary to question these types of emails. How important is it to know if a story is true? I’d like those of you out there in Xangaland to give me your thoughts.

Here’s the story as sent by my friend:

An Awesome 9-11 Story

A man from Norfolk, VA called a local radio station to share this on Sept 11th, 2003. His Name was Robert Matthews. These are his words:

“A few weeks before Sept. 11th (2001), my wife and I found out we were going to have our first child. She planned a trip out to California to visit her sister. On our way to the airport, we prayed that God would grant my wife a safe trip and be with her. Shortly after I said ‘amen,’ we both heard a loud pop and the car shook violently. We had blown out a tire. I replaced the tire as quickly as I could, but we still missed her flight. Both very upset, we drove home.

I received a call from my father who was retired NYFD. He asked what my wife’s flight number was, but I explained that we missed the flight. My father informed me that her flight was the one that crashed into the southern tower. I was too shocked to speak. My father also had more news for me; he was going to go to NY City to help. ‘This is not something I can just sit by for; I have to do something.’ I was concerned for his safety, of course, but more because he had never given his life to Christ. After a brief debate, I knew his mind was made up. Before he got off of the phone, he said, ‘take good care of my grandchild.’

Those were the last words I ever heard my father say; he died while helping in the rescue effort. My joy that my prayer of safety for my wife had been answered quickly became anger. I was angry at God, at my father, and at myself.

I had gone for nearly two years blaming God for taking my father away. My son would never know his grandfather, my father had never accepted Christ, and I never got to say goodbye Then something happened. About two months ago, I was sitting at home with my wife and my son, when there was a knock on the door. I looked at my wife, but I could tell she wasn’t expecting anyone. I opened the door to a couple with a small child. The man looked at me and asked if my father’s name was Jake Matthews. I told him it was. He quickly grabbed my hand and said, ‘I never got the chance to meet your father, but it is an honor to meet his son.’ He explained to me that his wife had worked in the World Trade Center and had been caught inside after the attack. She was pregnant and had been caught under debris. He then explained that my father had been the one to find his wife and free her.

My eyes welled up with tears as I thought of my father giving his life for people like this. He then said, ‘there is something else you need to know.’ His wife then told me that as my father worked to free her, she talked to him and lead him to Christ. I began sobbing at the news. Now I know that when I get to heaven, my father will be standing beside Jesus to welcome me, and that this family would be able to thank him themselves.

When their baby boy was born, they named him Jacob Matthew in honor of the man who gave his life so mother and baby could live.”

This story should help us to realize two things: First – that though it has been a few years since the attacks, we should never let it become a mere tragic memory. And second – but most important – God is always in control. We may not see the reason behind things, and we may never know this side of heaven, but God is ALWAYS in control.

Please take time to share this amazing story with those you love. You may never know the impact it may have on someone. God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

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Here is the information I gathered from Snopes.com:

“On 11 September 2001, terrorist acts in America resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocents. Many tales, from the horrifying to the inspiring, have emerged from the events of that day: accounts of tragedies averted through fortuitous coincidences, accounts of incredible acts of bravery and heroism, accounts of lives shattered and faith reaffirmed. The story quoted above contains all of these elements, but — like so many other September 11-related tales — it appears to be a work of fiction.

Perhaps someone really did call a Norfolk radio station on 11 September 2003 and relate this story, but unless the details have been garbled or deliberately changed in the telling, it doesn’t match any known real-life events. Consulting several comprehensive databases of September 11 victims which include emergency sevices personnel (e.g., CNN, MSNBC, Firehouse.com) turns up no one among the WTC dead with a surname of Matthews (let alone one with a first name of Jake or Jacob), nor does searching news databases locate any story resembling the one described.

On the available evidence we have to conclude that this account, touching as many may find it, is purely the product of someone’s imagination and not a true story.”

http://www.snopes.com/rumors/matthews.asp

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And here is the response I received from my friend:

“Thanks for the info, but on something like this…ya know what??? It doesn’t really occur to me to question it. I’m absolutely sure that snopes.com doesn’t know everything (haha) and that this story is very possibly true. Surely there are stories from that day that have never been told.”

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Here are my thoughts:

I agree that there are probably lots of stories that have never been told. And it’s possible that the names could have been changed, so checking the list of victims wouldn’t help. But I also know that there are people out there who write these kind of things… and kind of like tall tales they have a good moral, but aren’t based on facts. I just think that it’s important that we know the difference between a fictional story with a good moral and a factual story. Many people claim that the Bible is just full of fictional stories with good morals…. but it’s more than that. It’s fact. It’s absolute Truth. So as Christians, I think it’s super important to try to find truth. Tall tales, fiction, and myth are important
tools… they are ways to convey messages of truth, but they should never claim to be factual. If this story was written as a fictional story about some fictional event (not 9-11), it would be a good fictional story with a good, truthful message. But because it claims to be fact, it needs to be verified as such. Otherwise we are attributing to God something that did not happen. I agree that God could do such a thing. But there are many books that were written over the years that told stories about things God did that have not been proven to be true (the apocrypha). Some of them may be true, but they arouse enough doubt for us to not consider them to be reliable sources of information about God’s work. While we aren’t trying to cannonize scripture in this case, I think it’s still important to discover if the acts we are attributing to God are true as far as we know. But maybe that’s just the indoctrination of the Enlightenment affecting me. I guess I’m asking… how important is fact, and what is the role of fiction? And how important is it to be able to discern the difference between them?

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And a few questions for you to ponder:

Is it too cynical of me to want to validate these kinds of things? Am I wrong to question it? How important is it to find out if a story is true? In school, we are required to research our information to try to make sure it is reliable. Should that standard apply to information we share by email and on the internet as well? What sources should be considered reliable?

Any other thoughts or opinions you may have on this subject are welcome.