Friday, November 22, 2013

Seared Into Memory

Sunset at the Desert Retreat House
-November 2013-

Along with virtually everyone who was alive 50 years ago, I can vividly recall exactly where I was on November 22, 1963 -   The day President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Somehow that event is seared into our cultural memory.

I was just beginning High School when our tear-filled principal came into our class and told us that the president had been shot and killed. I remember it as clearly as if it happened yesterday as we were all ushered into the chapel of our Catholic school - the hymns, the sobs, the prayers.  I remember feeling so  sad, but I also remember being so grateful to be with all those other people - my teachers and my friends in the midst of that congregation.

When I returned home that day, the neighbors on our street were outside, gathered together in groups, quietly recalling where they were when they heard the news. Some were gathered in our home and, along with my parents, we were together watching the unfolding, dramatic TV coverage.

As I think about it, the thing that I recall most vividly in my memory of that tragic day was the sense of common humanity I was experiencing. I was sad about the President but I was also enormously comforted by the fact that everyone was in this mess together. Throughout the country and throughout the world, there was a sense of common solidarity on that day -  a solidarity that I had never before experienced. It is a memory that has been forever seared into my mind and into my spirit. 

Many years later I would have a similar experience of solidarity and common humanity.  I also can vividly recall where I was on September 11, 2001 as the Twin Towers were reduced to rubble and the world was forever changed. 

That event is also seared into my memory. To this very day I hear story after story from people everywhere about exactly where they were on the morning of 9/11 when the planes flew into the towers.

But once again, what abides most clearly in my memory is my recollection that, through it all, we were all in it together. 

Once again I was in church on the evening of 9/11 in the midst of and surrounded by other faithful people. Again I remember the hymns, the sobs, the prayers. I remember watching TV throughout the day - the images, the stories of people throughout the world gathering on the streets of New York or Los Angeles or London, or Paris- spontaneous candlelight vigils, quietly sitting together in city parks and town squares. Everyone "together." 

This morning as I reflected on my memories of a president's assassination and my vivid recollections of a crisis in September, I was struck with the thought that my memories of those two events have for me reinforced a profound truth about our human condition - we human beings are relationships.

When crises strike us, our very first instinct is to be together in it all.  It's as if a great crisis peels off all the phoniness and all the pretension. A crisis strips away the false delusion of an isolated, separated self. 

A president is assassinated, twin towers fall, and we are pulled out of our false sense of isolation and thrown into that dynamic complex web of relationships that is at the core of our human condition. We are wired to be together. 

So, on this 22nd day of November as I sit and recall those memories that have been seared into my mind and my spirit, I am conjuring up a vision and imagining a picture; and in my mind I am painting an icon of what it means to be a human being:

All of us everywhere are standing in the midst of death, tragedy, crisis and danger, fires raging, winds howling, and waves rising; and we are all holding hands with one another in the midst of it all-propping each other up. 

My "humanity" icon is, however, not quite complete - it needs something more.  Through all the tears, as we stand together in the mess and muck of life, an abiding Holy Presence is there together with us, abiding among us, flowing through us, and saying:

Do not be afraid for I am with you through it all.

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