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Remembering 9-11 - Five Years Later

An essay by Rev Fr John Brian Paprock
September 11, 2006

"Remember 9-11" seems less and less a battle cry five years later, even though it is still used in the bloodied rhetoric of politicians. Five years later, there is still real crying, real tears, hidden from public view. Families slowly living the rest of their lives without loved ones killed. It is expected that they still weep, but we are not inundated with their tears. In spite of the quiet heroics of everyday lives, image hungry media will seek those tears on this anniversary. But will images of their tears facilitate our own grief, our collective mourning? As this anniversary arrives, there seems to be stirring a conflicted inner struggle tucked away during the daily schedules of American work and family life. The numbing effect of information overload and anxiety of fear based scenarios distracts us from healing.

Many of us cry in remembrance, nonetheless. Hundreds of miles and hundreds of days from the events of 9-11, I cry. For a few years, in my youth, I lived and studied in 1980s New York City. I knew the City and, for that short time, I breathed the City. That single September day of 2001 changed everything. My heart sank as the second plane plowed into the World Trade Center on live television and it has not yet risen to the height it innocently and easily held September 10, 2001.

It became my pilgrimage to visit the hole, to make it more than a television screen that replayed the moments of impact. It was important to witness the result with my own eyes, to breathe the difference. When my wife, my son and I got to the place where once stood majestic titans, I couldn't help myself - I kept looking up in shock, whimpering "I can't believe they are actually gone. It is so empty." Others were looking through the fence into the rubble, into the hole. For me, the power of what happened was felt looking up at nothing. My family did not fully understand the many pictures I took of the sky above the fence line nor did they notice the way I held tightly to the fence as I pushed my face against a torn opening in the plastic that was draped loosely, looking at a flag draped coffin under a steel cross. How I needed that image to reassure me that God could be present even there, even then. Five years later, I have put away the photos - even as I admit the images are indelibly etched into my very being.

Tears are still falling not only for the catastrophic personal and individual losses of 9-11, but the loss of “America, the Invulnerable.” Fives years later, we also grieve the loss of “America, the Compassionate” and “America, the Merciful.” Some know these as attributes of God - but, until 9-11, many of us believed America held a special privilege of divine protection. Maybe she still does, but she does so despite the calls for violent retribution and the opportunities of blood soaked profits. Maybe God hears below the surface to our collective conscience, the part of all of us that knows what was done for a battle cry, that it needs to become a cry for forgiveness and humility.

If our losses could have ended on 9-11, five years later we could be healing at deep levels throughout our society. But our losses continue. The loss of life overseas, the loss of respect among the nations, the loss of security of our border, the loss of trust of our neighbors and each other are all hard losses to acknowledge. Adding salt to our wounds, our losses have been exploited and manipulated. Five years later, fear has come to dominate our collective grief. Instead of healing, fear keeps tearing at the scab as blood trickles from our woundedness.

I woke up crying for our losses that September day and those that linger to this day, this anniversary. It is not just a few buildings; for the rubble has been cleared and new structures have begun. It is not the people; for we all share the same end even if we do not share the manner of our departure (may God be merciful to all). What I truly mourn is the depth of our vulnerability exposed, the ease we have let blood flow in other lands, the reliance on the false security of vengeance, the exposure of untrustworthy guardians.

Perhaps, these dark things existed in our society all along and 9-11 became a light to expose our shortcoming and errors. Whether these are the details of our underbelly exposed or the errors of exploited fear, we are still accountable. It is not what happens to us, what others do to us, that will matter in the forever life as well as in the annuls of history. It is what we do, in spite of what happens to us; it is what we have done that will matter in the long run. There are dark principles that some would have us believe are filled with light. It sounds palatable when they say they stick to their principles - because we want to believe we share the same resolve.

However, we must be willing to examine the actions and outcomes of these darker principles. We need to have the courage to stand for peace in times of war, healing in times of woundedness, love in times of hatred, hope in times of distrust and disinformation. We need to embrace faith in the benevolence of God, who looked upon His creation in the beginning and saw that it was good. We need to act in charitable ways and in kind manners. We need to encourage constructive solutions and ideas that help us come together rather than rely on divisive and fear-filled rhetoric. We need to embrace the mercy of God with contrition and humility, with an understanding of our connectedness to even the least of us whether we lack in material sustenance, moral attributes, or spiritual wisdom.

If my spiritual ancestors of the Orthodox Christian Church knew the hour of our collective final judgment, they only said "Soon." Hundred of years have passed since, still the elders of our church say, "Soon." "Soon" has a double edged warning as it purposely lacks the defining attributes of precise digital time. “Soon” begs us to be prepared for the day of the Lord may be tomorrow, but act as if it were another thousand years away. In a fundamental and transcendent way, this reconciled manner of living with finality and eternity is our personal responsibility to God and our neighbors.

I reach out and pray to God to increase in our hearts a greater desire for peace with all people, that we may embrace our enemies and encourage our friends to greater acts of compassion, that we may be proved worthy of that blessed kingdom to come that has already been promised and stand assured on that day of God's love and mercy for all of us.

Five years later, I cry and remember 9-11.

(all rights reserved by by Rev Fr John Brian Paprock - 2006)

See Also:

What to Tell Your Children at Times of Traumatic Events

When Things Happen Without Reason
Sometimes things happen in life for apparently no reason at all. You think that there isn't any reason for something to happen until after the fact when that something has changed your life or pointed you into a new direction.

From Darkness Into the Light
When things take a turn and your day may seem out of the norm, take time to look at all the possibilities and I just bet, you'll find many blessings just waiting to be noticed, even if at first you start out, in the dark.

More Inspirational Articles

About the Author:

Rev Fr John Brian Paprock lives in Madison, WI. He is an ordained priest of Orthodox Church. He is the author of several books.

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