I was invited to speak at Haverhill's 9/11 Service of Remembrance that was held at noon on the steps of city hall. It was my first city function, so I agonized for a bit as to what I was going to say that would be meaningful and invite people into deeper reflection. I decided that in the end, my experience and thoughts would have to suffice (but isn't that what each of us has to offer anyway? So often we think we have nothing to say, but we all have a story and experiences to share). I decided to end with a poem written by a colleague (you can find it and many other reflections of his at Unfolding Light), because I thought it did an excellent job at sharing the hope and beauty that can arise out of our broken world.
I hope you enjoy my thoughts - and would love to hear your own.
I find it difficult to put into words the breadth and depth of human emotions experienced 10 years ago as we saw the towers fall, and watched the endless news reports stream from radios and televisions, and heard story after story of valiant rescues and human loss. On that day - and in the days to follow - we saw the best of humankind as neighbor reached out hand to neighbor and as people rallied around those who had lost loved ones in the tragedy. But we also saw the worst of humankind - the fear that gave way to hate, the violence and revenge that took hold of hearts, and the clambering need for retaliation.
10 years ago, I was a college freshman in the midst of the second week of classes. I had just arrived at the dining to eat breakfast when I saw people gathered around the television set that was mounted to the ceiling. I didn’t have a chance to ask anyone what was going on before I saw the second tower get hit. It was a surreal moment as we watched - feeling at once how distant and remote we all were from these events, being in central Maine...and yet how close we were as we struggled to make sense and meaning out of what had happened.
That evening, many of us on campus gathered together to share anger, pain, and grief. We gathered with questions - how do we make meaning out of what happened? What does this mean for how we live our lives - what does this mean for how we treat one another - especially those who are different than us? Why did something like this happen to us?
As I sat and listened to the dialogue around me, I experienced our common humanity. I saw all the peoples and cultures and faiths represented in that room, and realized in a very powerful way that we are all brothers and sisters. And as students began to express their emotions - the hurt and the grief and the anger - I learned what it meant to share in a way that did not resort to violence, and to listen to one another across differences. And I learned that all of us have a story to share - no matter who we are...no matter who we come from...no matter what faith we profess.
9/11 shook the foundations of our communities, of our nation, and of our world. I believe in many ways, we all still struggle with what that day meant for us - and we struggle with how the world is dramatically different now than it was 10 years ago. But I also believe that through the doubt, and the fear, and the darkness - through the wars and loss of life and grief - that we always have the hope for peace, the hope for forgiveness and humility, the hope that this broken, fragile world can be made new and whole...and the hope that we have the opportunity to participate in the creation of that wholeness.
I’d like to end by sharing with you a poem entitled “What the Silence Says,” written by Steve Garnaas-Holmes, a colleague of mine at St. Matthew's United Methodist Church in Acton, Massachusetts.
When the towers of what you know collapse,
what do you know?
Beside the great abyss that has swallowed
what you cherished,
where do you stand?
Before the darkness of war
closed the eyes of your heart,
what did you see?
What does the vast, swirling silence say?
That those who cause pain and those who receive it
fall into the same grave.
That lost in the wreckage every time is
the only God worth having.
That we have seen days dark enough
That wisdom is born of vulnerability.
That evil is not a monstrous power
but a sinuous thread,
the will to disregard
in service of our fear.
That there is in all of us a great hole,
under a pall of smoke and sorrow,
in which we meet each other
and know each other deeply.
That not victory, but tenderness
will save the world.
That before the dust falls upon us,
we who ourselves are dust will have chosen
to be people of might or people of grace,
one or the other;
and that it is in choosing that we are human,
and in choosing well that we are blessed.
That we are not worthy of our self-confidence
and yet God, still weeping,
resolutely trusts us
with her most fragile hopes.
That our flesh is sackcloth.
That we who are covered with the ash
of our failure, our fear of ourselves,
are yet beautiful,
that we who are certainly lost
can point the way.
It is my hope that we - still covered in ashes as we remember, can point the way to a brighter future - filled with hope, filled with grace...and filled with peace.