Friday, September 11, 2009

A Remembrance of 9-11

I remember clearly that I was listening to an FM radio music station as I drove through the intersection at Winchester Road and Moores Mill. I was on my way to Nashville for my week of classes. The report was short and told very little. A plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. So I switched the radio to NPR’s Morning Edition to find out more. I listened for the next two hours as the horror unfolded.

As I recall, Craig was on the arsenal that day. By the time I reached Fayetteville, Tennessee, the knowledge of the terrorist attack in NYC made me fear for his safety on the arsenal. So I called him on my cell phone just to check in.

I arrived in Nashville with enough time before my first class to stop in at Alpine Bakery for a cup of coffee and it was there that I saw the images for the first time.
For two hours, I had listened as the horrible events unfolded. I knew what had happened. But nothing prepared me for the impact of seeing the towers fall. Never underestimate the power of a visual image!

My first class that day was a class on the prophet Jeremiah taught by Renita Weems. As I recall by the time I entered the Div School, the dean’s letter was already posted on the door (although my timeline of the day could be sketchy). The letter expressed horror at the event and concern for the victims. In fact, the dean had a relative that worked in or near the Towers who had not yet been heard from. But he wanted everyone to know that the Div School would be a sanctuary for any Arab or Muslim students who feared retaliation. Dr. Weems also had a family member in NYC who worked in or near the towers that was still be heard from. (We latter learned that both people had survived the attack.)

I don’t remember what we discussed in Jeremiah that day. I do remember that Jeremiah and his lamentations seemed appropriate to the day.

I do, however, remember what we studied in my second and final class of the day, Liberation and Spirituality. In many ways, the class had prepared me to accept what had happened. I had read and heard so many third world voices and even the Christian ones were resentful of the United States. I was saddened, but not shocked, when some people did not grieve when we were so terribly hurt. Our teacher was out of town and he had planned for a TA to show us a video on non-violent resistance and so we did. I can’t begin to tell you how surreal it was to watch a video about Ghandi and MLK Jr on September 11, 2001! The class took on new meaning and depth as we truly struggled with Jesus’ teachings, Merton and Thurman’s teachings on spirituality, MLK’s teachings on community and non-violence in light of the violence of Sep 11th and the responses and emotions that day evoked in ourselves as well as others.

My apartment in Nashville was in the flight path of the Nashville airport. The apartment was far enough away that I was actually relatively unaware of the planes flying overhead until they stopped. I still remember the silence in the air around me.

That year, I was in the apartment alone. So I went back to the apartment and turned on the radio to NPR and kept it there throughout the night. When I would wake during the night, I’d catch up on the latest events and reflections and then fall back to sleep.

What I wanted—needed—the most was to be able to do something. So the next day, I did the only thing I knew to do: I went and gave blood. Hundreds of people joined me. The line to give blood was hours long. I had homework to do and a sermon to preach that Sunday, so I spent the hours waiting to give blood well. Generally, my experience with lots of people and long lines is that folks get testy and ugly---not that day. For a few days anyway, I think we all readjusted our priorities. We were more patient. We were more loving. We recognized what was really important. So we waited. For a while, we experienced Thurman’s concept of ”communitas” which strips us of the things which divide us, such as age, race, gender, and economic status, and binds us into a unified heterogeneous group. Well, at least, those of us southern Americans who gathered that day in Nashville to give blood experienced a form of “communitas.” A form still defined by nation and perhaps even region. And perhaps there is even something different about those who donate blood as a way of doing something that separates them from others. In any case, that day I received a foretaste—a vision—of what community truly should be.

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