Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ten years ago

Between now and this Sunday we will be deluged by accounts of people telling us where they were on the morning of the terrorist attacks on the United States. That is entirely as it should be. December 7, 1941, November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001, are three days that changed America forever. They are days whose events are etched into the minds of all Americans who were alive at the time and old enough to understand them. As someone who has an almost pathological memory of my whereabouts during momentous news events, I can remember almost every detail of September 11, 2001. And since my story is virtually identical to the story of every other American not in the direct line of fire that day, it is perfectly irrelevant.

I will however share for a moment my memories of the day exactly one year later, September 11, 2002. I was in Los Angeles working at one of the city's major art museums. In LA like everywhere else in the country, full scale public events were planned to commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11. Having been involved in the art world for a very long time, I've become accustomed to the political leanings of the vast majority of people in that world which as you can imagine are shall we say, to the left of center. My own politics are not entirely out of sync with theirs, just perhaps slightly more nuanced, I do try to listen to all sides and when necessary, break from the party line on occasion. For example, unlike many of the people I come in contact with on a daily basis, I don't have an overwhelming distrust of our country and its institutions. Not that I'm a jingoistic, flag waiving, my country right or wrong type of individual, but I do love my country despite its shortcomings.

Having said that, I was still unprepared for the conversation that took place during lunch with some of my colleagues from that LA institution, the gist of which was: "so what's with all this fuss about 9/11?" Frankly it was the first time I heard anyone address 9/11 without the gravitas it deserves, out of a deep respect for the victims and their families. Not these folks. "People die all the time...", someone said, "why should we place so much energy on this one event?" Another added: "...besides Americans are hated all over the world and we probably had it coming anyway."

Of course there is some truth to those words. No, we don't go out of our way to remember victims on the anniversary every single tragedy, and yes, our government's occasional forays both before and since 9/11 have created great resentment toward our country around the world. Like it or not, some folks do indeed hate us.

Still I find it amazing that there are people in this world whose hearts are so hardened by living in their own smug little cocoon of cynicism, that they cannot break free, not even for the most gut-wrenching experience they or any of us will likely ever experience, even if it was only from a distance.

I was reminded of those remarks the other day after hearing a snide remark about our museum's exhibiting some pictures of the World Trade Center (taken in happier times), in honor of the tenth anniversary of that terrible day. Granted, I haven't heard those sentiments expressed very often in the past ten years. Most folks I know who may at times feel a bit overwhelmed by all the attention to the event, out of respect for the dead, keep those opinions to themselves.

There will certainly be lots of coverage of 9/11 this Sunday, and I'll probably miss most of it.

This Sunday, the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, I plan to go to church and pray for the victims of 9/11 and for the loved ones they left behind. I'll especially remember the first responders who without any regard to their own safety, went into those buildings to do their job, saving the lives of others. I'll think of all those folks who went to Washington, DC and New York, also at great personal risk and without compensation to themselves, to help out in any way they could. Of course I will also remember our servicemen and women who put their lives on the line every day in the service of our country. And however futile this may sound to some of you, I will be praying for peace in the world.

This Sunday by happenstance will be an unusually busy day for us. We are going to two first birthday celebrations AND the baptism of a new born. Most importantly, I will be spending the day with my family. I can't think of a more fitting way to spend September 11, 2011.

After all, life goes on.

Post Script...

My day went mostly as planned. Either by pure coincidence or by divine providence, the gospel reading for Sunday, September 11, 2011 was the parable of the unforgiving servant who after having his own enormous debt forgiven out of compassion by his master, refused to forgive a trivial debt owed to him by another servant. An amazingly apt and challenging lesson for us about forgiveness, on the anniversary of one of the most painful days in our history.

I did manage to catch most of the coverage of the memorials in New York, Washington and Shanksville, and a part of the film shot by the two French film maker brothers who were in the process of shooting a documentary on a firehouse in Lower Manhattan when the attacks on the World Trade Center took place. Never during the day yesterday were my thoughts far from the events of ten years ago, but the most compelling moment was during the recessional hymn in church when we sang America the Beautiful. I completely lost it during the fourth verse:

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

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