September 11: Reflections
From an evening memorial program at Goucher College's Kraushaar Auditorium, September 11, 2002
September eleventh, 2001 . . . a date and a moment etched in history and memory for all of us . . . like December seventh, 1941 – the attack on Pearl Harbor – for one generation . . . and November twenty-second, 1963 – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy -- for another. We all remember where we were, what we were doing, when we heard about or watched the horrific moment that forever sets this date apart from the days of plenty in our lives. We recall the sense of shock and helplessness and anger . . . the frustration of not knowing how to react, how to do something to make ourselves feel better, how to find a quick fix for some undefined problem at the root of it all.
Some achieve comfort today in the ordinary and the routine, the predictable and manageable. Some seek the chance to commemorate, console, and commiserate. Others will find relief in buying, and possibly even reading, some of the 150 books that have been published about the tragedy, or in watching some of the 90 hours of special television programs that will air.
Many Americans find solace in waving the flag and wearing the flag, demonstrating their mettle and the nation’s resilience with red-white-and-blue bumper stickers and window signs and banners hung from highway overpasses. Many will find relief in political declarations that this country is the greatest ever and getting better all the time. We understand this impulse, and we certainly find much to be proud of in our country.
But tonight we seek to temper the broadness and force of these declarations of national unity and strength with something a bit more humble, more personal, more contemplative. In this place, on this night, we put our confidence and find our comfort in sublime and sacred music, reassuring and lyric words, and quiet reflection. We hope and we pray that in exercising the legitimate need to protect its citizens, our nation will be guided by wise leaders who will always defend our rights and our liberties. We believe that in responding to the hurt and harm arising from a vicious crime, it is possible to accomplish something beyond revenge – to educate our own people, beginning with our children; to understand others, in their languages as well as ours; and to search for new avenues of communication. Soon, perhaps, we can stop asking the unanswerable question, “Why do they hate us?”, and work instead on figuring out what we need to learn about our world. Our challenge now is not to mount a bigger and better marketing and advertising campaign to sell ourselves and our way of life, but to engage the rest of the world in a manner that leaves room to respect the way that others live.
As a visitor to this campus put it just a week ago, the place where we are today is not the center of the universe, but just the site of one little push-pin on the globe. We have suffered grave losses in the past year – the loss of many lives, the loss of our security and of our confidence that the ground beneath our feet could not be shaken. But we must realize, as that same visitor pointed out, that people in many places around the world cope daily with pain and suffering of a sort that we cannot fully imagine -- and they endure with dignity and grace. We must understand that to recognize their pain is not to negate our own, and that to acknowledge their struggles and celebrate their successes is not to diminish our own. If we expect others to care about and identify with us, we will have to do the same for them. We cannot live and survive without each other.
As we reflect on all that we, and others, have lost, let us also ponder all the wonderful discoveries we have yet to make, all the new ideas we have yet to explore, all the magnificent triumphs of the mind we have yet to celebrate and share. Let us engage the communities around us, near and far, in the pursuit of unity within and beyond our national borders – and a more peaceful, harmonious, and mutually respectful future for all the citizens of our world.