I was ten years old on September 11, 2001. I'm ashamed to admit that as of September 10, 2001, I had no never heard of the World Trade Centers (though I had seen them briefly, blurred with the rest of the New York City skyline, three years earlier in a car). Even as a ten year old, I lived a bubble, a place that I like to remain from time to time. So when my fifth grade teacher announced to us that the Twin Towers had been hit, I gasped because my classmates gasped. I can't even remember what happened prior to that announcement, but shortly after, I was with my sister in the breezeway, waiting for our father to come and take us home. I do remember we had to pull over on the way home, because we were having car trouble.
I don't think I really ever fully grasped the horror of that day. We had family up north, but none in Manhattan. My grandparents, former Brooklynites, now resided in Bal Harbor, Florida--though that Christmas when we visited, I noticed the memorial statues and framed newspaper clippings. My grandfather, a retired military man and metal worker, spent many years working on those buildings.
The memory of that time that is most vivid to me, however, is the first time we went to church after the Attacks--it may have even been that night, though I cannot be sure. Whatever day it was, we stood far in the back because the pews were so full. The feeling that had pervaded me since that Tuesday was a fear so intense and frustrating, because "how could God allow this to happen?" No one knew why. But, gazing out over a sea of bowed heads, I knew I was not alone.
The weeks and months that followed are hazy, like many of my childhood memories are becoming. We started selling red, white, and blue bracelets; there were American flags in every classroom and in front of every house. We wrote letters to the firefighters and police officers. We sent teddy bears to the children of victims of the Attacks. I learned new words, like "terrorist" and "suicide bomber"--words that a ten year old should never have to comprehend.
September 11 became "Patriot Day." Each year we dressed in red, white, and blue, took moments of silence throughout the school day, and shared memories. Gradually, the nation began to heal. People who had banded together with such conviction went back to being strangers, churches trickled down in size, and daily niceties became inconvenient once more. I stopped going to church. Like so many other foreword thinkers, God became an inconvenience.
I am certainly the last person to ask about religion, and would sooner be struck by lightning before I could preach to others about how to live a Christian life, but, whether by serendipity or by grace, I was in Church this morning, and I heard some things that I really needed to hear. The priest shared his memories of that day, recalling how, in the midst of a secular workplace, he suddenly found himself praying with hundreds of strangers, now brothers and sisters in a time of turmoil . "Churches were packed" he said, as he looked out at the empty row of chairs in front of him. There was no judgement in his eyes (I used to think Christianity was all about judgement), but there was a sadness to his sermon, a sadness at the state of things now, ten years later, and how much of that pain and suffering is forgotten. Not among the victims of that day, or those who gave their lives; they are heros and saints, and may their memories always remain. But the pain and suffering of those of us who lived past September 11, 2001 is quickly becoming a distant memory. The current state of our government, divided and petty, resonates harshly with the state of our collective consciousness, focused on greed, salary, social status, material wealth and degradation of others (reality TV, much?) I strongly doubt that anyone on this day ten years ago would have stolen a cab, hit a friend, sold someone out for personal gain, et cetera et cetera. Because on this day ten years ago, through the gravest phenomenon, we were all reminded how to live in this world. We were jolted by the reality of death, and all of a sudden holding open a door or giving up a bus seat seemed so much more important than holding our own place in line. And we found the time to talk to God. I know what it is like to feel that God has abandoned you, but oddly enough, on that day, and this morning in Church, he seemed closer to me than he has in years.
It's a big stretch, but I'll risk and say it: what if His plan was to shock us? If it hadn't have happened, would we have gotten the message? It took an earth swelling flood to reach us the first time, and it took a crucifixion to reach us the second. Like I said, I cannot preach, and I mean not to, but if we only turn to God when terror triumphs, surely he must be around to see us all the other days, even when we don't acknowledge him.
Just a thought.
|God Bless America|