I just came home from the Saturday afternoon Mass at my parish. The priest's homily wove together reflections on the readings of the day (which are about ways of responding to injury) and reflections on the events of September 11, 2001, as well as the more recent controversies surrounding these events and their meaning. As he spoke, I was filled with memories of that day, and I would like to offer some reflections of my own.
I was at work when the reports started coming in, and people were huddled around computers, televisions, and radios all day. (I work in a clinical services building, and there are televisions in the waiting rooms - no administrator was admonishing any employees or students who were seen lurking in those rooms that day.) At lunchtime, I knew there were four things I needed to do. I went to my husband's office, interrupted him in mid-conversation, and hugged him really really hard.
Then, I went to St. Mary's and sat in the empty, darkened church for a while. As I sat there thinking about the events of the day, I realized that the mothers of the men who did these things would have to spend the rest of their lives with the knowledge that in their last moments of life their sons looked other people in the eye and did not see people but things. Those young men had lost their humanity, had given it up for a thing - an ideology. I became overwhelmed with the grief that the mothers of these young men would carry for the rest of their lives. As much as I am capable of praying, I prayed for those mothers.
The third thing I did was stop at a popcorn shop and get a large bag of caramel corn. (When life is hard, add sugar.) The fourth thing I did was stop at small Lebanese restaurant and pick up some lunch. I exchanged pleasantries with the folks behind the counter and wished them well. I needed to do this, to ground myself in the humanity of people from the Middle East.
As I sat there this evening, remembering back, I smiled again at the baby who had sat in front of me at the Mass that distant afternoon. Anne and Dan's baby had blown spit bubbles at me throughout the liturgy. Tuesday afternoon Masses usually attract about 20-30 people, but the word had gone out over parish e-mail groups that the Mass that day would be for the victims of the day's events, and over 300 people were there.
I remember being stunned that evening (we had dashed home for a quick dinner before rushing back to campus for a candlelight vigil) when we turned on the television set and realized that people had interpreted these events as an "attack on America." I asked my husband, "What do they mean by an attack? This was a bunch of nutjobs who committed some horrible acts!" As the days, weeks, and months wore on, and the war drums got louder and louder, I remained bewildered. What good could possibly come from our nation inflicting horrors on other people?
I have continued to be bewildered. We have trained our young men and women to do horrible, unspeakable things to other people; we have asked some of our most idealistic and practical young people to give up part of their humanity; we have put them in harm's way and seen their limbs blown off, their brains receive traumatic injuries, and their sleep troubled with nightmares. We have buried way too many of them; and we have caused people in multiple countries to bury many times more of their people. We have turned whole towns-full of people into refugees living in squalid limbo-like conditions.
The Sunday afternoon that we started bombing Afghanistan, I was in the sewing room, working on a quilt and listening to the radio. I heard the news and started crying; not knowing what else to do, I simply kept sewing. In a world full of people intent on destruction, some of us must create. In a world of people willing to blame and hate and shame, some of us must love and grieve and widen the circle. In a world where intolerance of "the other" exists, some of us must remind the world that each of us is an "other" to someone else. The things that are being said about Muslims in America were once said about Catholics, about Jews, about Chinese, about Japanese, about African-Americans - and so many other groups. We look back and say these things were wrong about these other groups; why are we unable to see that they're wrong about the current group?
Nine years ago, I was coming to the realization that I would never be a mother; this was a deep well of grief for me. We can take grief and turn it to anger, or we can take grief and turn it into an energy that enables us to love wider and deeper. We can come to see that we know so little, and that if there are any answers in this world, they may lie beyond us. As the final song we sang this evening said, "We live and journey, journey for home."