Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ten Years After

I suppose I should talk about September eleventh.
It's not that I have anything new, startling or original, even, to say.
You have already read some fine contributions from some other Star Courier columnists. But every time I start to write my way down another path this week, my mind returns to what happened ten years ago.
I'm one of the people who thinks it feels like a long time ago when our safe, secure world went topsy-turvy. Like most of you, I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news about what was going on. I remember driving from an early morning appointment in Galesburg and mulling over the fact that the Knox College football team's orthopedist had just recommended a second surgery on my son's knee.
At some point, I must have flipped on the radio.
"Oh, it must be the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing," I thought as my subconscious began to process the information it was hearing.
Soon, I realized I wasn't listening to a documentary, but a realtime tragedy.
I wondered if I should continue into work in Peoria or just go home.
I decided to head to work. No one was home, and I needed people.
When I got there, the folks in my division were jammed into the conference room, watching TV.
Some were crying. Some were angry. Some were simply stunned.
Some worried about family members and friends in New York and other big cities.
In the background, our boss worried we weren't getting enough work done.
I wasn't sure if he really understood what was going on that day. Looking back, I still wonder. But everyone pretty much ignored him anyway; watching, talking quietly and watching some more until it was time to go home.
Several weeks later, I needed to go to New York City. Some new job responsibilities were going to require me to spend significant time in the northeastern United States every month. I had already traveled to Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. This would be my first time in Manhattan, except for a couple of visits years before as a tourist.
I remember arguing with my cabbie about whether my hotel was actually open for business. I knew it was, because I had just talked to them. He wasn't so sure.
"It's pretty close, you know. Pretty close."
He didn't have to say what it was my hotel was pretty close to.
The Holiday Inn Soho is, in fact, almost exactly one mile away from Ground Zero.
Now, I'm no voyeur.
I'm no rubbernecker.
I try really hard to look away from life's most awful moments.
But I had to look at this one, feeling I'd never really understand what had happened unless I saw it for myself. It was a cool, crisp, sunny morning. The kind of beautiful day that makes you think that, yes, you could live in a big city and just walk and walk and walk from home to work and from place to place.
Nothing could have made me understand the sheer immensity of the place where those two buildings stood. No one could have prepared me for the sights, sounds and smells that still lingered.
The fires were out by then, but the search for the bodies of the victims continued.
It seemed endless.
In a way, it has been.
Those deaths became the reason behind two wars and a major change in attitude towards civil liberties and human rights in America and around the world. Faux-patriotic chest-thumping has become the norm for some politicians, while genuine soul-searching still remains a challenge for most.
I remember asking myself, "Why did this happen?"
I didn't know then.
I don't know now.
I do know that I, for one, have grown weary of the crazy cry for vengeance. Partly because it serves no real purpose. And partly because I'm not sure we really know who we're mad at.
We have, in fact, demonized millions of peaceful Muslims without any real regard for who they are and what they believe in. We have put thousands of young American lives in harm's way as we have chased the shadows of terrorism without really knowing exactly who we're chasing or why we have been their targets.
And I just don't understand.
Ten years after, on Sunday, September eleventh, we went to church. I kind of expected a little flag waving, as the Infant of Prague parish serves over 40,000 U.S. Marines and their families. As always, we prayed for those young warriors and the ones they love. But the theme of the day was not one of vengeance or war or victory or retribution.
It was forgiveness.
It's not easy. And they say it's truly divine.
But I pray it's something we can all learn to understand.

No comments:

Post a Comment