Saturday, September 10, 2016

September 11--Do You Remember?

Pictures of those lost in 9/11 from Ground Zero Museum

The Sunday following September 11th we were out West and couldn't get home. The Airlines were either shut down or swamped. So I didn't preach that Sunday--I was too far from the church. But the next Sunday I tried to gather my thoughts and preach to a group of people huddled together under a cross wondering. Wondering. And so was I.

As that sermon ended an Usher came and said, "There's a young man back here that would like to talk to you." I went back to talk to the man. He was dark-sinned. Obviously from some middle-eastern country. The first thing he said was, "I hope you don't hate all of us." Strange way to open a conversation. "I hope you don't hate all of us." And then he poured it out. He was from Iraq. He was a student. He was far from home. A Muslim. He was so embarrassed at what had happened. He said that in that long week since the towers fell some people had been ugly to him. Some didn't say anything--but they just looked like they hated him."I hope you don't hate all of us." And I tried to reassure him that I didn't and we didn't. That we did not hold all his people responsible for what happened.  That we were glad he was in our country and I hope things would go well for him. The young man turned around and left and I never saw him again. 

Now fifteen years later and a changed, mutilated world--I still remember what he asked me that Sunday morning. Do we hate them? In our over-reaction we sent our boys and girls out to fight the wrong enemy. No wonder they hate us. We tore their world apart while back home we seethed and raged. We didn't seem to remember that what had happened to us had happened to the rest of the world again and again. 

And here we are on another September morning. The stock market soars. Unemployment is about as low as we have seen it. We've had a black President whom so many hate. We have political candidates gouging at one another. And all around us people have taken sides about who is lying and who is really our enemy and who really will make or keep America great. We pick and choose how we see things. 

Refugees look for a safe home. Thousands have drowned trying to get to safety. Immigrants shudder these days. Many of their children don't sleep well at nights. Their wives with burkas do not travel alone to our Malls. In the Grocery stores we stare at Hispanics and wonder if they have papers. We hear about Terrorists continually. And we have made many rich with Homeland Security. And we have made ourselves much poorer with guns and bombs and drones and devastation in so many foreign places.  What is our future--we refugees from September 11th? Will we hate each other. Will we look out our windows where most of us are safe and grit our teeth and ignore the colored falling leaves. Will we be deaf to the birds that sing outside? Or the butterflies and the bees that still do their work.

I remember the young man with the dark-skin that asked me that troubling question. And it has reminded me of the question that woman asked Benjamin Franklin years ago. "What kind of country are you going to give us, Mr. Franklin? He said, "A republic lady, if we can keep it."

On September 11th I am drawn once again by those words of the Polish poet. He writes:

"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've seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were 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 grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle right that strays and vanishes,
and returns."*

No, there is no such thing as closure. 
But out there we still have a chance to 
find our way.
To forgive one another.
To speak kindly to the brown-skins...
and the crippled...and to the black skins...
and the white faces...and to the old and
the young and to say to one another
No, we really don't hate you.

But we, one and all will praise, together, 
our mutilated world. 

*partial poem by Adam Zagajewski

Letters written and posted on Ground Zero Museum wall

--Roger Lovette /

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