I was asked to give the reflection today at an interfaith prayer service recalling the events of September 11, 2001. Here’s what I had to say to those gathered:
- from the Buddhist tradition: verses 7 and 8 from the Metta Sutra
- from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures:
- Isaiah 61:1-3
- Colossians 3:12-17
We’re gathered this afternoon to commemorate the events that occurred on this day six years ago. All of us have been affected in one way or another by the events of that day. Most of us can recall where we were when we first heard the news. We remember the shock; some of us remember the sense of unreality we felt as we watched events unfold. “This can’t really be happening,” we may have thought—while we remained glued to the television set or the radio, listening to commentators insist that it was indeed happening. We remember the fear we felt—and that some still feel. We remember the pride we took in the firefighters who rushed into burning buildings to save as many as they could, and in the passengers who tried to retake control of their plane.
Most importantly, we remember those who died that day, and we pray with and for their families and friends.
It is good that we remember. But how do we remember? That, I think, is the question—or, better yet, the choice—before us today. How do we choose to remember the events of September 11?
We could choose to dredge up the memories and feelings of that day for the purpose of feeding our anger and desire for revenge. That’s a natural enough choice—at least in the sense of being an easy choice. Besides, there’s no denying that we have every right to be angry; attacks on civilians warrant anger, and a thirst for revenge is an almost instinctual response to such hurt.
But I think the readings we’ve heard this afternoon call us to a different way of remembering. Several words and phrases stood out for me:
- Binding up the brokenhearted and providing comfort to mourners
- “…without hate or enmity”
When we remember the events of September 11, will we reach out to those who lost loved ones that day, offering them what comfort we can? Will our memories drive us to seek peace in whatever ways we can?
Dare we remember, and choose to forgive? Dare we remember in order to forgive? That may sound crazy. But listening to the readings, it seems to me that forgiveness, healing, and peace go together. Dare we remember with the purpose of recalling the damage that was done that day, and doing what we can to heal that damage and seek peace?
If our memories serve only to fuel our anger and our desire for revenge, peace isn’t something we’ll be well acquainted with. Instead, we’re likely to find ourselves all knotted up inside, ready to lash out at anyone who steps on our wounded hearts. Moreover, we’ll find it difficult to reach out to those around us with compassion and kindness. It’s hard to reach out when we’re all knotted up in our own anger.
If, however, we remember in order to forgive, we open up new possibilities. Forgiving wrongs done to us is a gift we give to ourselves as much as to those who’ve harmed us. In choosing to set aside our anger and let go of our need for revenge, we remove the blinders that keep us focused on our own hurts. We can more readily see the hurts of others, and begin to reach out to them. In so doing, we help to heal those hurts and to promote peace in our own small way, and find greater peace within ourselves in the process.
Let us not forget the terrible events of six years ago. It is important that we remember—but let us choose carefully how and why we remember.