On September 11, 2001 many of us were getting ready for work when the images came over the news. I was getting ready for work. I was a parish pastor then, with a full day of teaching, pastoral calls, and mid-week worship ahead. That day ended so many lives, and forever changed the lives of their loved ones. We are grateful for the memorials being observed across the country and the opportunity to honor them and dedicate ourselves again to preventing it from ever happening again.
My own personal reaction – I mean personal, not professional – was to suddenly feel very close to those around me. I found it was possible to value my loved ones more. I found that it was possible to value strangers in my midst more. I found that it was possible to experience a closeness of the heart, often unspoken but deeply felt, with people I shared life with having no more in common than meeting on the street. We shared a common sense of loss.
It feels to me now, a eleven years later, that this sense of community in the wake of 9/11 is being undermined, not by terrorists, but by divisions in our own country. Terrorism is but the extreme expression, after all, of bitter hatred. It can be fueled by lots of things, some of them real and some of them fabricated, in order to deceive and manipulate. When we tear one another down with words, and it becomes OK to attack one another’s character or intentions simply because we disagree with them, we dishonor those who died on 9/11. When we fear those whom we don’t really know, or accept without personal knowledge accusations made about others, or when we assume bad things about a person simply because we don’t know their whole story, we dishonor them and ourselves. When we refuse to offer the hand of friendship and helpfulness when we know that it could bring someone to a better place, if even for a moment, we have missed an opportunity to fight fear and division in our community.
We can’t solve the world’s problems ourselves, but we can work for kindness rather than anger. Returning to that sense of oneness, that sense of our common need for one another that 9/11 evoked within us, and extending that oneness even to a stranger, may be the best way to honor those whom we remember today.