20 Years Later

Like most of you I am sure, I have been thinking a lot about 9/11 this weekend, which marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. In particular, I have been wondering about whether it brought us closer as a nation, or whether it actually fragmented us. I imagine it depends on who you ask.

I started thinking about this particular question after reading this article in The New York Times about how the events of 9/11 have permanently altered our airline travel experience. You can read it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/09/travel/airline-travel-september-11.html?smid=url-share

It was a timely article for me, because I actually was supposed to be on an airplane this weekend, but my flight was cancelled, and so I ended up having to drive instead.

What struck me most in the article was the description of the ways in which the events of 9/11 have caused people to view one another with suspicion, rather than trust, and come together assuming that we are strangers, rather than friends–and even enemies who need to be monitored.

We all know these attitudes are especially prevalent when differences are involved: related to 9/11, the differences that matter most are differences in skin color, religion, and nationality.

And so I wonder about the legacy of 9/11. Is this an event that brought us closer, and created stronger bonds of community, or is it an event that divided us, into those who are like us and those who are not?  Like most things, I imagine it’s a bit of both. Either way, we don’t need to make divisiveness the lasting legacy of 9/11; and, personally, if I take anything from that day, I take that.

In particular, when it comes to this generation of young people, who don’t know a world before 9/11, I don’t want their legacy to be a world where we assume the worst about each other; a world where we presume someone who is different from us is to be feared; a world where, when we say “us,” we mean only those who look and sound and think the way I do.

But it has become abundantly clear in these last years that to really expand our understanding of “we“ requires work and intentionality. It requires making ourselves vulnerable, putting ourselves in the disposition of learners, and being willing to take some risks and make some mistakes.

And in this way, it sounds very similar to the work that Christ calls all of his followers to participate in, which is sharing the good news of God’s unconditional love for all and the radical welcome into God’s family through our own radical acceptance, love, and hospitality–not only in word but in deed, being God‘s heart and hands in the world.

We will, I imagine, always look back on 9/11 with both grief for those who lost their lives and gratitude for those who gave their lives to save others. But looking back is not enough. We also need to look forward as well, forward into a future where tragedy and loss are transformed through the power of love and forgiveness, such that the United States is not stronger just for some, and not welcoming just for insiders, but for all.

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