It is twenty years since the four coordinated terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda that killed 2,977 people — 2,753 of them at ground zero in New York City. A post from Diana Butler Bass written 10 years after 9/11 (slightly adapted for the 20 year anniversary). Still pertinent.
More than anything on this anniversary I wish to be silent. A few may protest saying it is important to remember the events of two decades ago. That is true. A people must know their past. But who alive has forgotten? Indeed, the media will not let us forget. The images of 9/11 are seared in our minds forever, replayed millions of time on television and across the internet.
There is, however, a difference between memory – the snapshots that stay in our minds always – and remembering. ‘Remembering’ means to ‘put back together’ the pieces of the past, to rearrange the pictures of memory in order to make meaning, to heal, to forgive or to inspire. Memory and remembering are related, but they are not the same thing. Memory is simply not forgetting, the process in which we feel the power of events once again. Remembering is the hard work of seeing, understanding, making sense of, and learning from the past.
In the two decades since 9/11, we have not forgotten. But we have treated the events of 9/11 rather like taking a video of a loved one’s death – and replaying the end over and over and over. Anyone who has suffered the pain of death knows that endlessly playing a DVD of the last moment’s of that person’s life will never lead to healing. Indeed, watching death do its worst repeatedly opens grief and wounds anew, imprinting the immediacy of suffering on the minds of the mournful. In order to heal, to ‘move on’ as counsellors say, one must do the hard work of death – to patiently remember the whole life of those who have died and to learn from the gifts that person left behind. Remembering is a process, a spiritual one at that, by which we come to terms with mortality and flawed humanity, as well as the power of courage and abiding love.
We all have a memory of 9/11. But have we remembered?
Silence makes room for remembering. I don’t want to hear patriotic songs, jingoistic speeches, or even well considered rehearsals of ‘what happened on that day’. I want to see no pictures of burning towers or flag waving. I wish for empty public space, a communal practice of quiet, to reflect not only what happened on 9/11, but in the long sad decades since. For just a brief time, I long for, in the words of an ancient hymn, ‘all mortal flesh keep silence’ in the face of fear and trembling that gripped us one September day 20 years ago.
I wonder what we would find there – of ourselves, our neighbours and God – in that void of words?
How has September 11 affected our Christian communities? What shadows did it reveal among some? What strengths did it evoke among others? What has happened to us in the years since?
A hymn for the anniversary of September 11th: O God, Our Hearts Were Shattered
O God, our hearts were shattered On that horrendous day;
We heard the news and gathered To grieve and then to pray.
We cried to you and wondered, “Where did the violence start?”
The world as we had known it Had just been torn apart.
We heard of those who perished — Of heroes’ sacrifice.
We paused again to cherish The gifts of love and life.
We worried for the future; We hugged our loved ones then.
We cried, “Can peace be found here?” “We can’t let terror win!”
Some sought to answer terror The only way they knew —
With anger toward the stranger And calls for vengeance, too.
Yet this is not your answer, Nor what you would create.
May we live toward a future Where love will conquer hate.
God, give us faith and wisdom To be your healing hands;
Give open minds that listen To truth from all your lands.
Give strength to work for justice; Grant love that casts out fear.
Then peace and not destruction Will be the victor here.
Tune: LLANGLOFFAN 18.104.22.168 D (“Lead On, O King Eternal”; “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers”)
Text: Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
(You might be interested in an open online ‘pop up’ class exploring the impact of 9/11 and all that followed on Christianity, with Diana Butler Bass, Tripp Fuller and Brian McLaren – six sessions, pay what you can, watch anytime over the next 12 months. The 6 Feature Sessions are: 20 Years of Religious Decline; The Rise of Authoritarianism; Repentance & Resistance; Inter-religious Learning; Theology & Spirituality in Times of Rupture; Christianity – Should I Stay or Should I Go?)