The big question today always comes up on this day: “Where were you on September 11th?” We can all answer that question. But I have another question: “Where are we on September 11th—not 2001 but 2013?” And what have we learned in these intervening years. We do need to remember that terrible day:
3,497 died that day
1609 lost spouses
3,152 children lost parents
327 foreign nationals were killed in three attacks
On that terrible day, under President Bush’s leadership we came together. I remember him chastising those who wanted to bash Muslims. And for a while it looked like all those ashes and all that grief and all that pain would bring us together. And yet as we look back now we wonder about the reasons for going into that awful war and its grotesque results. Those killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan tell us:
3,432 service persons died in Iraq
2,266 killed in Afghanistan
2,021 Americans were wounded
18 Vets commit suicide every day
Estimate of civilian casualties in these wars: 158,000-202,000
This is where we are on September 11, 2013. Much of our grief we turned outward. Hate crimes are astronomically high. Para-military groups are in every state hoping to take down the government they think tyrannical. We cannot tackle the immigration problem. Gridlock is everywhere in Washington. Who would believe in 2013 that we would be putting up barricades yet again to keep people from voting? The jobless rate in our country is still too high. And fights over the US Budget continues ad nauseam.
And yet this is only part of the story. Where are we on September 11, 2013? We have elected a black President twice. We have moved closer to giving Gays and Lesbians full rights in our country. Despite incredible opposition we have voted in our first Affordable Care Act for all Americans of the first time in our history. How many other Presidents tried and failed here. We must have learned something from these wars. No wonder we are skittish about Syria. We are haunted by photographs of all those children and adults. We want to do something—but we are afraid of another war. Seems like we have grown up some when the majority of our people wonder about strikes to Syria. Many of our citizens want to turn our attention to some of the serous problems in our country. And all this is good news for me. Where are we on this September 11th? This is not an easy question to answer. Yet—despite all the messiness of our democracy I do see some real hope for the days ahead.
We need to come together and deal with our problems. We need to quit bashing our President—even though he is only human. What President was not? The dividing line between red-states and blue-states seems hard and fast. Yet those on both sides love this country-or most of us do. Yet we can’t seem affirm our belief in a United States.
Where are you on this September 11th? As we answer that question we might just have a glimmer of what the future just might look like.
The Polish poet Adam Zagajewski says it for me:
“Try to praise the mutilated world
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we wee together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes,
Sounds like a pretty good Benediction for wherever we are this September 11th.