The passage of time tints the lenses through which we view things. Our experiences add up to this day and our current lives, and if we’re lucky, those experiences not only provide wisdom, but they soften us in a way that only the terrible beauty of life can.
I don’t know what 9/11 feels like today in other parts of the country. I don’t know that it carries the palpable solemnity that it does here in New York. Here, the wounds seem fresh, though fourteen years have gone by. And the way the world and we changed forever because of that day seems almost more tragic than the lives lost.
For a brief moment, we came together. For a brief moment, we understood that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. For a moment, we lined up to pitch in, to give blood, to lighten the load of our neighbors, without concern for their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. For a moment we understood what really matters.
It is difficult to look at today’s societal landscape and not think that all of that has been lost, that is was but a fleeting moment in time. And if it didn’t teach us a lasting lesson of compassion for one another, then maybe the lives lost truly were in vain.
History repeats itself when we fail to learn the lessons it would teach us. That’s why the words of Dr. Martin Luther King ring truer today than when he said them:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The word “love” today is mocked. It is not considered a viable political stance, or spoken of as a way of showing up in the world. And those of us who consider it the only option, and the only way of showing up in the world are thought of as somehow immature or lacking in practicality, when, in fact, we have tried the other way for centuries, and in our current lexicon of “How’s that working for ya?” it is clear that it has not.
Love is the difficult choice, the mature choice, the evolved choice, and the choice that demands the most from each of us. How many of us consider ourselves followers of a Judeo-Christian faith, where we are explicitly commanded, yes commanded to love one another? I often think that if God were in human form right now, he’d be gently weeping with his head in his hands and consider this whole creation of man and free will thing to be a colossal failure.
I know I sound like Debbie Downer here, and maybe it is the weight of hearing each name read aloud, one by one, but I can’t help but think we can do better, and that not to do so is tantamount to spitting on the graves of the lives lost to the kind of hatred that fills our worst nightmares.
If 9/11 taught us anything, it is that what we take for granted can be gone in the blink of an eye – the ones we love, our sense of security, our way of life. There is no way around the fragility. There is no certainty.
If right now was your last moment before the skyscraper of your life came down, what would your last words be to those you care about most?
What would you most regret leaving undone or unsaid?
What would you want those left behind to remember about you?
What would you want the summation of your life to be?
This is what we are called to contemplate today. This is the gift of this moment of remembering.
So whatever words you would say, be they “I love you,” or “I’m sorry,” – say them now. Whatever thing you’ve been putting off, whatever longing in your heart, whatever dream you once had for your life – do it now.
Let’s say a prayer for those who died and those who lived. And if we are to bear witness to anything, let it be to the eternal power and triumph of love.