Hard to imagine.
A life time, or certainly near to it. Men and women not yet born have fought and some have died in the conflicts that followed that terrible morning.
The Sunday that followed 9/11 I was expected to preach. Casting about to find something that might be a word of hope I listened to stories.
One in particular captured my heart.
Now, twenty years have passed and we’ve found ourselves mired in recriminations, and blame placing. Wars followed. What appeared to be endless wars. We are scant weeks out of Afghanistan, although the consequences will be playing for a long, long time.
This has been noticed and commented on. And, absolutely there is plenty of blame to place. Lots of people to carry blame.
And, of course, not to be forgotten. We’ve found ourselves experiencing a horror all too common around the world.
Absolutely. Something truly horrific happened.
And. It was a horror we share as human beings. And. It recalls us to fundamental truths. And, me, I bow to those truths.
There is a crack in everything. If we don’t turn away, if we peer deep into it, we might find our lives.
I fear we will not. If the past twenty years have shown anything, it is our human ability to do the wrong thing over and over again.
And looking back I recall one story that captured me.
I told it on that Sunday following the attacks. This is how I worded it when recalling the events ten years later…
On that 11th day of September 2001, just before the first tower fell, trapped on the 105th floor where he worked for the investment bank Cantor-Fitzgerald, 32 year old Stuart Meltzer just had time to make one phone call. He called his wife. She wasn’t at home, so he left a message on their answering machine. “Honey, something terrible is happening. I don’t think I am going to make it. I love you. Take care of the children.”
The wisest words are almost always small words. But they can summarize it all. Stuart Meltzer sets the stage for all of us, sets the conditions for our finding of perspective, for our coming to wisdom. Five days after these terrible events I found myself in the pulpit of that church I was serving, forced by circumstances to speak. There was context of course. There was anger and a visceral desire for vengeance. There was also our communal part in this. Foolish and stupid things our country was involved in that helped to set the stage. Many choices for those words that I had to speak.
But I found my inspiration in reports of firemen and policemen racing into the towers when anyone in their right mind was racing away. Ten years later and I find my mind filled with stories of people calling out, many, most perhaps, finding their last words going to answering machines. And it was Stuart’s words that most inspired me, gave me courage to speak, then, and again, now.
“Honey, something terrible is happening. I don’t think I’m going to make it.” He confesses a real, if hard truth. We all will die. There is no doubt, even though we can cloud our awareness of this fact for a time, we, each and every blessed one of us will die. But, when we allow ourselves to truly understand our passingness, that we only occupy this life for a brief time, then we find things can click into place, we can find harmony and balance and most important of all, we can find that precious perspective. Within this experience of perspective, of how we are beautiful and temporary, we can distill out of our ordinary passing experience, enough.
And what is that “enough?” Stuart said it in the face of his dying: “I love you.” So powerful, so simple, so truthful of everything that makes us human. Love is the most mysterious force on this planet. No wonder we use it as the fundamental synonym for God. Love is the longing of the human heart; it is the knowing that even in our temporariness, we are also connected. As the hymn tells us, as we open our hearts, love will guide us.
But, even those words, “I love you,” if left alone, don’t fully take us where we must go. I remember the experience of a dear friend of mine so many years ago, going before the ministerial fellowship committee, the group of lay leaders and clergy who decide whether an individual is ready for ministry. My friend preached his sample homily for them on the nature of love. At the end of the homily, during the time when the committee is asking the hard questions, delving, probing, to see if this individual really is ready to step out into service, helping people in the rawest of times, they asked the hardest question. “What do you say when you run out of sermons on love?”
Well, we’ve seen that time and we’ve been given an answer. Stuart tells us. “Take care of the children.” Not kill our enemies. Not seek a terrible vengeance. Not create rivers of blood. Take care of the children.
Of course we need to seek justice. And, sadly, we’ve seen how that can turn on a heartbeat into something else. Hard times have followed these past ten years. So many dead, Americans, Iraqis, Afghanis, others. So, many. Too many. Of course, the karma is complex and fault can be found everywhere.
We rarely can control what happens to us. But, we can control our responses.
Here is the heart of the song, sung to us from the 105th floor of the World Trade Center, the lesson, the only lesson we can pull out of this horror that will ease hurt and heal wounds.
Passing as we are, we are woven together into a great mystery.
That mystery is love. When we know love, we go can forward to give our hands and our lives to care for the children and each other. Let us not miss it. I
t is the blessing that pours forth for all of us from that terrible moment at the World Trade Center, flowing like life-giving waters, like an ever flowing stream.