This morning as I prayed, I reflected on what this day means. Today’s very apt reflection for September 11 in Give Us This Day comes from St. Francis de Sales and begins:
“We find fault with our neighbor very readily for small matters, while we pass over great things in ourselves.”
When you read that on this (or any day) what strikes your heart? Are we a better people – and I am speaking collectively here – after the events of that day? Peering through the ash and smoke of my own wreckage, I can’t be sure that I am. Being critical is hardwired in me in a particular way that I dislike, and I have been working on this for a long, long time. Long as in moving one grain of sand at a time in a boundless desert.
The piece continues with:
“We strive to sell at an inflated price and buy with discounts. We are eater to deal out strict justice to others, but just as eager to obtain indulgence for ourselves. We expect a good interpretation to be put on all we say, but we are sensitive and critical of our neighbor.”
Do these words elicit a response in your heart? While I want to be critical (ding ding ding) about the economy, I think of a larger landscape. The works of diplomacy and peace, of war and death. About how as a nation we first drew together, briefly it seems, and then each and every one of our internal and collecting hanging judges emerged, all the while refusing to reflect upon our responsibilities. Can we hold the images of the burning towers in mind and heart while looking at the great waves of refugees of today and see a connection? I’m no saint or hero, but they are not merely connected for me, they are fused.
For some reason, 14 years after the event, for the first time, I feel like I can barely think about that day. My office was almost 5 miles from Ground Zero, and I did not personally know anyone who perished, the day touched me personally in many ways. The weight of it is like a suffocating layer of soot and debris today, I am not sure why.
I have made a total of three trips to that location in 14 years. Two were by invitation, only one was self-directed. In December 2001 a friend, now of blessed memory, came to visit from the UK and wanted to go. Despite my daily journeys into Manhattan for work, I had never gone down there after the day, but we went. The visit knocked the wind out of me, and one block away I realized I could not go closer.
In 2007, as I prepared to leave the New York City area for a new life in Albany, I took myself down there. The feelings of feeling almost nothing were like weights upon my shoulders. Did I feel nothing? Or did I resist? Crowds of tourists gathered around the fence that surrounded the hole, some of them teenagers who were horsing around; that annoyed me. My disdain mounted as I began to judge a city, country, world, that had the hole still empty. Today I can see more gift in that than I could that day. As I began to walk away I was keenly aware of so much activity on the streets. At that time bank branches (watch out 2008, crash ahead!) were opening at breakneck speed and so many were in my line of sight. Banks, Duane Reade drugstores, Starbucks, and nail salons formed a backdrop. It was a time when people were really into Blackberries, and I was struck by how many were walking, eyes fixed on the their screens. (The third visit was in 2013, but not much to say about that here, other than I was invited and it still hurt to be there.)
The scene was a harbinger of what was to come. All of it made me wonder what the dead of that day would say if they could speak. In my imagination they said, “Is this the best you could do to honor our memory? Open so many banks and nail salons? Coffee shops and drugstores? And stare at your Blackberries instead of talking to one another?”
But then I remember what St. Francis de Sales says: “We expect a good interpretation to be put on all we say, but we are sensitive and critical of our neighbor.” How I want to be seen and what I see. Time for me to rewind and reflect, as I now spend more time staring at screens than I realize.
In any event, I seem to have wandered far afield from that quotation, but in my mind, these were the images that floated up from the heart of my prayer. Every day I struggle with the kind of world we have created. The ping pong ball of my inner spirit wants to rage against the “powers that be” and my own role in creating peace and harmony. Back and forth across some table within me, the thwock-thwock sound of the paddle hitting the ball grows louder. “They” did this, but how did “I” respond? And how do I continue to respond?
At the end of the reflection these words leaped off the page, temporarily calling a halt to the ping pong game:
“No one ever loses by being generous, noble-hearted, and courteous.”
It looks like I have some refreshed instructions for the day. May we all be and do so, imagining and living ourselves into a better world.