9/11/2001 – Stuck or Transformed?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

What memories of September 11, 2001 do you have?  Was there some transformative power at work that continues to reveal itself in you today?

I was up early that morning in Seattle, made coffee, returned to bed and then uncharacteristically turned on the TV. The first plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. At first glance I thought it was a surreal stunt.  And then the second plane hit the South Tower.  I reached for the phone and called key staff members telling them what had happened and said, “We’re having an interfaith service; can you meet at the Cathedral in 90 minutes?”

Interfaith services took place across the United States in the days following the events of 9/11. The terror that lived in most of our hearts because of the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington DC was compounded by the stories of attacks and hatred directed to members of various religious communities.  These attacks came not from abroad, but from within the United States. 

As we tried to make sense of what the terrorist attacks, committed in the name of Allah meant, many were also grappling with internal attacks on the founding American principle of religious freedom.  President Bush’s suggestion of a religious crusade ricocheted in the hearts of many. It invited the question of whether the violence inherent in a crusade was a descent into greater darkness accompanied by the erosion of the values of liberty and justice that characterize America’s story and ideals. 

In the complex mix of emotions unleashed within us, the “other” became a scapegoat for many.  We always have the choice of accepting or rejecting the practice of scapegoating.  The Sociologist Keith Doubt believes that the scapegoat takes on symbolic significance as we develop a collective understanding of the scapegoat resulting in prejudice, which in turn leads to legitimizing violence under the “cloak of righteousness.” He says that when we scapegoat, human rights become invisible and moral actions become paralyzed. 

I kept asking myself, “Where is the light that shines in the darkness?  What is that light revealing to us?” 

Anxiety, horror, anger, uncertainty, bewilderment and fear were all combustible elements living side by side. For the hundreds of thousands who attended interfaith services across the United States and elsewhere that week there was a flickering hope, a refusal even, to have the dream of a common humanity shattered by a few. 

Unnamed and unspoken by most, these gatherings of prayer, lamentation and hope embodied a refusal to scapegoat.  They clung to a belief that the darkness of jettisoning human rights and moral paralysis invited a descent into further darkness instead of seeking the possibility of light in the midst of darkness.

Images of some of the traditions of the human family

In the largest of these services in Seattle, participants came knowing that in the six days following September 11th there had been attacks in that city on members of the Sikh and Muslim communities while synagogues required protection at Rosh Hashanah.  Fear had led to threats and actions of violence aimed at people because they were not part of the Christian majority or because they looked different.

At the interfaith service in Seattle I said, “When I light a candle, I say to the darkness, ‘I beg to differ.’”  We can beg to differ with the darkest darkness.  That night a sea of lit candles filled sacred spaces and then shed light on the streets of Seattle as people walked together in the streets, moving from one sacred space in the city to another. We begged to differ with the darkness whether it was coming from abroad, from our own leaders, from within our own community, or residing among our own unresolved and complex reactions. 

The power of people coming together refusing to succumb to fear and darkness pointed to a powerful ancient truth that, “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”  The light is revealed in our shared humanity, in our oneness and in the Holy or sacred discovered in all. It is a very different engagement with being human than the obsession with crusades reported by The New York Times.

Is the invitation of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 revealed in what it means to discover our oneness as a people together?  What it means to find God revealed in the many sacred traditions practiced in the United States and among the human family? What it means to refuse to scapegoat and deny the rights of others? And in the truth that our humanity is revealed when we work together for the well-being of all?  

Is the transformative gift of the 9/11 observances discovered in knowing that we need each other as members of the human family now more than ever? That is a power that no hatred or violence can scapegoat.

Join the conversation! Share your memories, reactions or transformative experiences below

Click here to watch Robert’s video conversation The Life-Giving Power of Darkness

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  1. My heart goes out to everyone who were affected by 9/11, including many Muslims who lost their lives in the Towers. And my heart goes out to the Muslims today who have become the scapegoat for the cause of this tragedy. The people who caused 9/11 were not true Muslims and those who do practice True Islam will tell you the same thing.

    When someone who calls themselves a Christian commits a huge crime (such as the man who slaughtered all those children in Norway), people don’t say that all Christians are terrorists. Or when Timothy McVeigh, who was a U.S. vet, bombed Oklahoma, we didn’t call all U.S. vets terrorists. Therefore, we should not say that all Muslims are terrorists.

    If you research the truth about Islam, you will find that it really is a peace loving religion that believes in harming no one or no thing. It is only those who are steeped in so much fear and hate over Islam and Muslims who are spreading the hateful propaganda and ignorant information.

    If we are ever to see peace in our world, we need to see peace in all people. All people need to live peace, to be love. And I really appreciate all those involved in Interfaith organizations who are seeing that we really are all one people under one God. Bless you!

  2. i found out the twin towers were hit when my then husband called me on the telephone from boeing in seattle i listened as he told me …
    he said mary as we were making love early this morning the towers in new york city were hit by airplanes
    i had not opened a television set in years and opened the screen and somehow
    i did see the fact and mirage of all that would soon take place .
    several weeks later i met in my healing practice a man who came to me wearing a firemans uniform with the insignia from new york city firefighters . this patient of mine had unresoolved lesions on his hands form fighting fires in seattle . his cousin had died as a fire fighter in the fires of the twin towers .
    my patient also a firefighter was asked to clean out his cousins locker in the fire station after 9 11 and had chosen to sear his deceased cousins clothings.
    he lamented that it was his cousin who died in the twin towers who was a good man and not himself . it was his cousin and not himself who could fight fires,
    in his sadness he claimed to be a lesser man.
    i had been exhausted and not wanting to answer my cell phone and did not want to accept on that day new patients .
    i learned that day to keep my phone open and my heart open for the visitor
    who by chance blesses this dark and luminous world
    blessings came and did not leave me.
    i learned to love each person no matter how tired or weary i might imagine this body feels
    m tsering

  3. Br Graham-Michoel

    I had just woken, (living in Auckland at the time), and, rare for me, had decided to turn on the TV. “What on earth is this,” I said to myself, “some strange horror movie, at this time of day?” Then reality struck and I watched in utter disbelief as people jumped out of the buildings and then the towers collapsed. Even in far away New Zealand we were stunned – and then the reckless reactions began. Local mosques were stonned or had blood red paint thrown at them. Some were attacked, and another reality came to the surface of a reasonably peaceful country – not far under the skin of so many people is hate and violence.
    Karen is of course absolutely right, ‘not all Muslims are terrorists’, and neither are all Jews or Christians. We sometimes manage to forget that such bitterness is not far below the surface in every culture and creed. It is the duty of every Christian to pray for peace – not simply the peace that comes at the end of war, or when an argument has been settled, but to write peace on our hearts.
    Once I was over the shock I wanted to simply walk the streets and hug every Son of Abraham I could find. The reality was that so many Muslims just quickly avoided contact and hid in their homes, for days, for weeks.
    Pray for peace. There is no greater power in the world than prayer.
    Br Graham-Michoel

  4. Br Graham-Michoel

    Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.

    Etty Hillesum
    An Interrupted Life

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