The following remarks were delivered at the Time of Remembrance and Renewal at the Round Lake Auditorium on the evening of September 11, 2011.
We gather here today, in our community, among friends and neighbors, to mark perhaps the most momentous event in our collective memory.
We gather to remember those who lost their lives, to remember those who gave their lives, to remember all who served, and to remember our own innocence lost.
But we also gather to wrap the grief and anxiety of the last ten years with love and hope.
It seems surprising in some ways, as we have grown so inured to tragedy. We have all experienced personal losses. We hear the news of lives lost in distant wars and nearby shootings. We see tragedy everywhere – especially these days as flood waters devastate our region and tear apart families. Yet we don’t often gather ten years later to remember.
So why do we gather for this one? And why is this one so hard?
I believe it is because the events of September 11, 2001, was not just a random incident or an act of nature. It was personal: a planned and targeted attack on us.
Many of us were personally touched – we lost loved ones or knew someone who did. We knew people who rushed in to help when millions were rushing out. Others know people who had gotten a late start, had a dentist’s appointment, ran into train delays, anything – anything – ANYTHING that kept them from being at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that Tuesday morning.
In that first year, we did many things right to manage our grief. We held vigils, memorials, such as the one held in 2002 in this space; we offered our financial support, we went to help. We worked through those first trying, heartbreaking years.
But still we sit, ten years later, still knots in our stomachs and lumps in our throats when we think of the Twin Towers, and the Pentagon, and the men and women who brought down the fourth plane in Pennsylvania.
We need more room to heal our wounds, to tend our grief, to mourn our loss.
And so we gather today to wrap our arms around each other, to share memories, to consider the scary and frightening world in which we live.
Our world is scary – I don’t have to tell you all the things that frighten us now – and the many ways our fear manifests. We remember these quite easily – even more so if you travel by airplane or take a day trip across the border into Montreal…
But we are not here just to remember our fear – we are here to transform it.
It is ten years later, and we still feel raw. So how do we get to a place of renewal? That’s what I hope we can discover together today.
We who are gathered here come from many faiths, or none at all – we draw comfort from our sacred texts, our beliefs, and that moral conscience inside us that knows right from wrong, good from evil.
And our faiths vary – we are Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, theists and deists and agnostics and atheists. Those lines alone can divide us – it is easy to see the differences between beliefs and let those differences take charge. And there are lines of nationality… and race…and identity – easy ways to divide us into a comforting ‘sameness.’
In fact, it is in our ancient tribal nature to be drawn to sameness – to see the world in terms of us versus them. Us versus them was very important when we feared total destruction of our little nomadic villages. Us versus them provided protection against predators and conquering hoardes. Us versus them is comfortable. Instinctual.
But we don’t live in the ancient world anymore. We live in a global society – the world is bigger than ever. We can chat online with friends in Manitoba, Madrid, Mumbai, Melbourne… our media, communications, products, ideas, and friendships are expansive and global.
And as large as the world is, is as small as it has become. Events that happen on the other side of the world shake us – whether they be tsunamis in Indonesia, genocide in the Sudan, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, famine in Somalia, shootings in Norway, or riots in London.
Our women and men in uniform serve around the world in wars with people we hardly know but are intimately connected with – because this world, as large as it is, has grown small.
And when the world is this small, we have to let go of some of our tribal mentality… or at the very least, open up the tribe to include everyone.
The choir sang a few minutes ago words inspired by Deuteronomy 6, verses 4-9:
we should love one another with all our hearts…
and we should care for each other,
with all our souls and our might.
Mother Teresa reminds us that we belong to one another… we are one family, one tribe.
It’s hard to remember, of course, when part of our tribe hates us with every fiber of its being… it is all too easy to remain angry and hurt. It’s easy to keep our wounds open and feel their rawness. We feel powerless to combat the evil that is seemingly more tangible than ever, making it easy to circle the wagons and hide in our pain.
But we should love one another with all our hearts.
And whether you believe in God, or gods, or no god at all, that golden rule – to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, reminds us that the acting in love – compassion – is how we heal. Meister Eckhart suggests that we may call God love; we may call God goodness, but the best name for God is compassion.
And out of compassion comes renewal.
Compassion comes when we listen to one another’s stories. When we listen to one another, not as enemies or people who are different, but as people, we hear their stories and we understand that they too hurt…and cry…and celebrate…and love.
Compassion comes when we think outside ourselves. Part of our celebration here today is a thank you to the men and women who serve on the emergency teams – fire fighters, EMTs, police. These are people who show compassion in spades – they think outside themselves and say “how can I help my neighbor”?
Compassion comes when we allow the weight of our pain to open our hearts a little bit more. Instead of our struggling to hold it closed or cry out in agony, we let our hearts be heavy… and full… and we act and speak out of that pain… we heal through our woundings.
It is through compassion that we find renewal. It is through compassion that we see love, and joy, and peace. It is through compassion that we touch the divine in ourselves and each other, what the Buddhists name when they say “namaste.”
So we go forth together today, holding each other, remembering, and loving one another with all our hearts. And while we may not always know or feel or see peace… we can always pray for peace.