ten years ago today i was standing in my classroom teaching a lesson on something to my special 6-8th grade students. a fellow teacher walked by my door and told me that something had happened in NYC so i should turn on my tv. it was about 8:50am. and then i, my students, and so many others of us (in the US & around the world) on that beautiful tuesday morning, watched with disbelief, the horror unfold right before our eyes on live tv. as we began to realize that these were terrorist attacks and the enormity of the tragedy became clearer, i began to feel fear well up inside of me. the twin towers? the pentagon? another plane? when would it end? and then my fear doubled. i was afraid of the attacks, but then i became afraid of the response too. i could not comprehend this horrible situation as my mind went straight to the thoughts of how americans might respond to these attacks (for we are rugged, individualistic people who sometimes think too highly of ourselves)… on that 9/11 10 years ago, i was afraid of the terrorists. and i was afraid of the americans who would immediately rush to seek revenge. i imagined things spinning out of control…
looking back, i see that we did not (unfortunately) rally together as americans to seek the road of peace in the midst of tragedy. instead we (as a country) looked to war and revenge as a way to answer our problems and to hold those responsible for that hellish day. though there are many who cried out for the path of peace to be followed.
now i know that there are many who call me idealistic, naive, and a pacifist. and i am 2 of 3 of those things (naive, i am not). but, i am proud to be idealistic and a pacifist. and i believe in a God who is a God of love, not of punishment and revenge. and i certainly believe that we, as human beings – christian, buddist, muslim, atheist, pagan, humanist, jewish, whatever – are called to live lives that lift up love, that seek to build bridges & solve problems, that refuse to fight with our hands, and instead discuss with our heads & hearts. we are called to break down barriers, not put them up. to work for equality & justice for all people, not discrimination based on fear. to be peacemakers, not revenge-seekers.
is it easy? hell no. we want those who hurt us to suffer, to taste a little bit of their own medicine. even i admit that i want that at times. but, what does that really solve? we just remained trapped within our hate and fear. and we move farther & farther away from each other, instead of toward one another. seeking revenge solves nothing. it just creates more violence and pain. is iraq better off today than it was 8 or 10 years ago? i have iraqi friends who spent 5 years (5 YEARS!) in their home in baghdad because it was too dangerous to go outside. 5 years in their home. inside! they and their entire family have since fled iraq and now live in sweden. i’d say that seeking revenge on iraq solved nothing. hunting after a man in the mountains of afghanistan for almost 10 years only served to help that country spiral down.
of course we want justice. of course people are to be held accountable for their actions. but what christian wishes another person dead? what christian, who follows the peace-loving, grace-extending jesus, speaks words of hate, bigotry, and violence? how could so many “christians” in the states in 2001 think that God would look down on God’s creation (the entire world) and be satisfied with the americans who decided to choose to fight out of fear, instead of to struggle & work for peace? i did not understand 10 years ago. and i do not understand today.
yes. today is 9/11. it’s been 10 years. and i suppose some of you may be thinking why i am not being more reflective on all of the lives lost. well, i am. my soul is crying for those who perished in such scary, horrible ways. my soul aches for the family members who remain. my soul hurts as i think of the pain & fear that we all felt on that day. i honor all of the stories of bravery and heroism that i have heard over the years. and i plan to watch coverage of the ceremonies on tv (or the internet) today. i am mourning with everyone.
but, as i reflect on this somber day, i do not only weep for those who died on that day 10 years ago. i weep for all of those who die, all around the world, at the hands of violence. sometimes we americans seem to be a little lopsided, thinking that our big country is the best. well, it’s great & i love it to pieces. but, who decides what “best” is? i can tell you, as someone who lives in another country, that i cannot choose between my country of citizenship & my country of residence. different is not wrong. it’s only different. and sometimes, when we get out of our little bubbles, we encounter something amazing. so, the deaths of our american citizens (and other foreign citizens who died that day) are not in any way more tragic than the deaths of men, women, and children who die every day, every second of every day, around the world, often in circumstances at least as horrific as the terrorist attacks of 9/11. today, i mourn the fact that so many around the world have died over the past 10 years, including those who died on september 11, 2001. it is important to remember, to mourn, and to reflect.
but, after today, it’s time to begin our march for peace again. it’s time to begin to build bridges. to believe once again in hope. to get to know each other. to challenge ourselves and rid ourselves of our prejudices. it’s time to brush ourselves off, acknowledge that we have a job to do, and then take the hand of another as we walk together on this journey in life. we must learn from our mistakes. we must believe in hope and peace. we must seek to make this world a better place for all people, without using violence as a means to an end. and we must begin to meet each other & see each other as God sees us: as unique individuals, but all equally important and worthy – from a starving child in africa, to the CEO of a business, to an iraqi refugee, to an evangelical mother, to a murderer, to a celebrity, to an alcoholic homeless man, to a family with 2 children & a dog, to a teenager struggling with her sexuality, to a south american drug lord, to a truck driver, to a scientist, to a nun… to you, to me. and everyone in between.
last night i worked at my internship. we work with teenagers who want to make a difference in society. these teenagers/young adults come from all sorts of backgrounds and have all sorts of experiences. for whatever personal reasons they have, they want to use their lives to reach out to other teens/young people. so we drive around, walk around, and meet people on the street. last night, we had 2 young people working with us for a little while. we drove to a large park in the city & then got out to walk around, checking to see how everything was. did anyone need help? was everything safe & calm? as we walked, i thought about the fact that i was walking with 2 young men who were from afghanistan and who had both found their way to sweden to seek refuge. they have different life stories & experiences (and i don’t really know them), but i do know that there has been disappointment & heartbreak & tragedy like i have never known in their lives. they have every reason to be pissed off at the world. but, instead of being pissed off, they are using their free time to ensure that other teenagers are safe. somehow they are living through their pain and allowing it to be transformed into something selfless and amazing. instead of going out and creating more violence and seeking revenge, they want to help others feel safe and good – a luxury that they have not had every day of their lives i imagine.
last night, while we worked at the park, i played in the fallen, wet autumn leaves with a young man from afghanistan. an american woman and an afghani young man. we laughed. we ran. and we laughed some more before we hugged each other goodbye for the evening. an unlikely pair, yes. but, on the eve of 9/11. it was a perfect moment.
my friends, my brothers and sisters around the world… today we cry. but tomorrow we love.