Sunday, September 11, 2016

Out of the Ashes

"A Point of Light
- the desert at sunrise -

All sorts of people will be asked if they remember where they were 15 years ago today - September 11, 2001? I remember the fateful events of “9/11” so vividly that it is as if it all happened yesterday.

I was in an early-morning staff meeting in my office when my administrative assistant knocked on the door and said, “You had better come out here and see what’s happening.” We all gathered in front of a TV set and watched in horror as the events of that day unfolded - planes flying into the twin towers as they collapsed into a heap of rubble, so much chaos, death, pain and unimaginable suffering. We sat glued to the front of that TV set all day long and as the hours of the day passed by I could literally feel that we were being drained of energy and life. By the end of the day, there was nothing left but ashes and all hope seemed to be gone.

That evening we held a community-wide vigil service in our parish church. Even without any prior notice, the church was overflowing with people from the throughout the entire neighborhood, all of us feeling a deep need to try and find some meaning in the senselessness of all that had transpired, all of us gathered together to somehow fill the empty void that that had been left by the horrible events of that day.

Then something happened that changed it all for me.

As we sat in a candlelit church holding one another’s hands, though our tears we sang the words of the well-known hymn, “We shall overcome,” and it was as if a burst of light suddenly pierced through my darkness. I felt as if we were all being lifted up out of the ashes of that day, and “deep in my hear” I knew that hope was still alive and the light of love could never be extinguished even in the face of such great hate and so much death.

To this very day I remember that vigil service on the night of 9/11 when I came to that soulful realization about the nature of what “hope” is all about: Even in the darkness, “God” abides and we have one another - that’s what it means to have hope.

The poet Emily Dickinson once wrote:

Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all

After the events of 9/11 a new age of global terror descended upon this country and the world. A war was waged - hateful retribution against those did us wrong and equal acts of vengeance in return. To this day, the ugly face of terror stalks our airports and night-clubs and walks our city streets. These past months of strident, vile presidential-election rhetoric has incited many of us to turn against one another, shun foreigners and to banish immigrants.

Every once in a while that very same feeling I had on that day 15 years ago on 9/11 seems to return to me once again.  In the darkness of all the chaos I sometimes feel drained of life and energy - devoid of hope. But then I call to mind that one moment in a darkened church on the night of 9/11 and I keep hope alive: God abides, we have one another, and in the end Love will will the day.

On this 15th anniversary, the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr. resonate in my soul, words that continue to echo, filling up all those empty places in the world, speaking new life to those who sit in the ashes of life:

But even in the midst of chaos
I refuse to believe that the daybreak of peace and brotherhood
can never become a reality.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love
will have the final word.

Yes, I still believe that we shall overcome!


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