Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 Five Years Later

[I published this commentary in the local newspaper. Thought I'd share it with you. -- PB]

In a perfect state of blissful ignorance, I was in my study reading on the morning of
September 11, 2001, when my mother called from her car. Before I could say hello, she began speaking in the tone she uses when something terrible has occurred and she’s maintaining maternal calm and sanity. “I haven’t heard from Chip yet,” she said, “But I think he’s far enough away from it all that I’m sure he’s fine. Let’s not worry until we know more. Please don’t worry about me. I’m not driving into Manhattan, I’m going to stop in Connecticut and stay with your sister.”

I interrupted her. “What are you talking about?” I asked what was going on. Was she okay? And then I heard her take a very deep breath and she said, “Honey, go turn on the television. Stay on the phone with me and go turn on the television.”

And so we watched the mayhem together, or rather I watched while she stayed on the phone with me. My younger brother Chip worked in Manhattan, as did his wife at the time. We would not know for many hours where they were, whether or not they were trapped in the subway, or how harrowing a day they would have slowly walking home among other stunned, soot and ash-covered New Yorkers. I was living in Maryland then, just an hour from Washington, DC, and I froze with horror when I heard about the plane that had smashed into the side of the Pentagon, and the fourth flight that had gone down in a field in nearby Pennsylvania. Were there more planes? Where were they headed? Should I prepare to die? Should we all prepare to die?

Life in ministry had certainly acquainted me with the shadow side of human nature, but nothing in my experience or seminary training had ever prepared me for an encounter with this kind of malevolence. It felt apocalyptic. It felt demonic. I knew, however, that as soon as I could manage it, I would have to reach out to my congregation that didn’t have a building of its own and therefore had no central place to gather, and that most intimidating and overwhelming of all, that I would have to have something to say about the events of this day. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be able to say anything at all if I couldn’t stop my teeth from chattering.

What could I say? What could I possibly say? I wanted nothing more than to hide in my room and lock the door. I pulled down my Bible and opened to the Psalms, that ancient hymn book that contains not only praise, hope and faith but human rage, despair, destruction, fear, vengeance, and fist-shaking at God. I did not know that morning that Muslim fanatics were responsible for the attacks, or that religion in general would take such a central role in the global response to this day. I just knew that I needed to hear the voices of other struggling, faithful human beings who had experienced their own horrific destructions. I needed their company in prayer, and I needed to ground myself with the Psalmist in the reality that although human beings may choose to commit atrocious acts with their God-given existential freedom, the world was still a sacred place where love could, and would, abide and triumph over fear.

By the time I walked out the door for our evening community vigil, I was still shaky and terrified (and would remain so for some time afterward), but I had one clear thought in my head and in my heart: either love is stronger than fear, or it isn’t. Either we believe that love is stronger than fear, or we don’t.

Whatever we did from this day forward, as individuals, as communities, and as a nation would illustrate where we stand on this ultimate question. I knew where I wanted to stand.


Blogger Berrysmom said...

I'm glad you had the wherewithall to make some kind of cogent, non-hysterical public comment about 9/11, PB. As for me, I have neither read the newspaper nor listened to the radio today. I feel pummeled by the wallowing in Tragedy Revisited and I am, frankly, sick and tired of being manipulated by the government and the media to make me feel as frightened as possible.

Last week a local reporter called to ask what the UU's were going to do on Sunday by way of a 9/11 commemoration. I told her we would probably acknowledge it in a prayer, but that's all. I told her it's our annual homecoming Sunday, always an upbeat, high energy service, and I was unwilling to bring that energy down by remembering 9/11 EVEN MORE THAN WE WERE ALREADY GETTING IT CRAMMED DOWN OUR THROATS. (I didn't use those exact words...) I wanted to add that it was her ilk that was making me so grumpy, but you have to be careful what you say to reporters, as they quote people. (And I was very pleased, when the story ran on Friday, to see that a lot of other churches were handling it as we were, with a prayer at most.)

I can't help but be affected by all the 9/11 remembrances going on, and I am impatient with myself for succumbing, but it's like trying to will myself out of a fogbank without being able to move; eventually it will blow away, but there's nothing I can do about it.

How much longer do you think we will have to endure this crap?

Blogger Peregrinato said...

I pulled down my Bible and opened to the Psalms, that ancient hymn book that contains not only praise, hope and faith but human rage, despair, destruction, fear, vengeance, and fist-shaking at God.

I wish I were better friends with the Bible at that time. I needed that knowledge and that wisdom.


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