On September 11, 2001, the world gasped in dismay as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan crumpled to the ground one after the other in an agony of rending metal and billowing asbestos dust, flying glass and a ghastly confetti of thenceforth and forever futile business and financial documents.
2606 people perished at the Towers on that day; thousands were injured and later fell ill, and scores have passed away since, victims of the toxic dust, the traumas, and, for some, simply of broken hearts.
And even with the defiant, proud reconstruction of One World Trade, the New York City skyline still bears an empty space in silent and grieving testimony to the day on which so much was so brutally ripped away from so many.
At the Pentagon, Flight 77 rocketed into the heart of America’s bastion of strategic defense, killed 184 innocent people and left the country shockingly aware of its vulnerability.
In a field near the little town of Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a monument has been erected to the 40 selfless passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 who committed to vivid personification of John 15:13* when they decided of one mind to overcome the hijackers, thus avoiding an even greater massacre, though it cost all of them their lives.
And the world poured out its support on a grieving, traumatized America, and the best nature of humanity stood strong to defy the worst nature of humanity, to comfort and heal the wounded and the families and make sure love and hope triumphed.
Almost two decades later, how far have we really come, from there?
Are we better women and men, better Americans, better citizens of the world, better caretakers of our children’s health and future; are we more understanding of the impacts of our own decisions on others; are we better Christians or Hindus or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or whatever faith you may or may not adhere to?
Are we better human beings?
Are we genuinely honoring the memory of these victims, and indeed all victims of hatred and racism and xenophobia before and since, by building not walls to divide us, but a solid and common foundation of consistent, mutual support, and by raising the necessary structures for a more just, more caring, more respectful, more equitable country and world?
I was raised a Christian and still am one, but my in my travels around the world I have been blessed to have been welcomed by and to visit or live among and become familiar with people of many other cultures and faiths, which blessing I believe has helped me to refine my own convictions and faith and understand them more clearly, the better to be their instrument. In the end a person practices his or her beliefs in the way they feel closest to the Higher Power and that’s perfectly fine as long as we acknowledge our similarities with others and respect their faiths that they feel suit them. Because in those travels I came to understand that all forms of spirituality are based on the same teachings of “Love your neighbor; treat others as you want them to treat you.”**
Yet, in the years since 9/11/2001, it increasingly seems that rather than applying the discipline and moral fortitude required to show power in compassion, empathy and love in order to prevent such tragedies and promote these teachings as well as to carry out the commands to assist and care for those less fortunate and seek true justice for those who would do us harm, there is a fast-growing trend of taking the much easier path of anger, hurtfulness, divisiveness, closed-mindedness, self-righteous judgement and criticism, and most of all, shameless self-service.
Striving to live and serve in kindness and empathy, love and compassion takes work and prayer, every single day – but the results are worth it all around.
I don’t think those who perished in the attacks on this day 17 years ago wanted their deaths to be followed by anger and division and hate. I believe we will be honoring them far more if the thoughtless anger, needless hatefulness, egotistic attitudes and xenophobic actions are set aside to enable a real and collective search for the real solutions which our society so badly needs.
We are always stronger in kindness.
Tene memorias illorum qui cesserunt
Benedicat tibi Dominus et custodiat te