Three Weeks After the Day the World Changed

Three Weeks After the Day the World Changed

By Kathryn George

After 3 weeks of watching the images on the television, of listening to stories of survival and rescue and death and grief, of being educated in the fine art of terrorism, I've just reached the place where I can begin to understand what the terrible events of September 11 were like for those who live in New York.

In his sermon, "The Whole World Changed on September 11," the Rev. Daniel Paul Matthews, Rector of Trinity Wall Street, wrote about the dust that covered lower Manhattan on that day. Thank you Father Matthews for talking about the dust. I am beginning to understand what happened through the images you shared of that dust, that great cloud of dust that rose during the collapse, that coated the survivors and the rescuers and the dead, that filled the streets of lower Manhattan, that fell over the city. The dust that has now traveled all over the world, caught up in the eddies and currents of the upper atmosphere, just as the dust of a cataclysmic volcanic event is carried around the world, only this time the dust is made up of concrete and feet and fiberglass, business suits and livers and Palm Pilots, spleens and cell phones, paper clips and plastic and fingers, computers and and asbestos and ears, Post-It Notes and ties and elbows...

The televised images of the towers collapsing, the dust and debris roaring down the urban canyons of lower Manhattan like a manmade pyroclastic flow, is impossible to grasp completely as I sit in the familiarity of my living room, on a warm Southern California night in October, several thousand miles away from ground zero. Thousands of souls gone in a few seconds, their screams and prayers, their dreams, their memories, their fears, their joys, their  hopes, all of them gone, intermingled with the noise and dust of the buildings as they collapsed. So great an event was the collapse that the ground shook -- the seismic equivalent of a magnitude 4 earthquake. Impossible, impossible. I want to weep, I want to wail and tear my clothing, smear ashes on my face.

We, all of us, everyone of us are capable of this act of destruction. We become so stuck in our belief, thinking that we know absolutely what is right, what is certain, forgetting that faith is not certainty, forgetting that certainty belies God. We make our certainty into a god and we follow that false god into hatred, into war, into a crusade against others who do not believe as we believe, worship as we worship, live as we live. Whose skin or eyes or hair is a different color, whose faith is different, whose sexual preference is different, whose economic or political system is different. We see those others as less than human, we debate the acceptance of those others into our group, we distance ourselves from them. And then war happens, then terrorism happens, then the towers collapse and some of us are caught, some of us are killed, some of us become dust. As dust we are all the same, the differences gone, just bits of matter that once formed part of a person, a person that loved, that is still loved by a mother or a dad or a brother or a husband or a friend, that is always loved by God. Even the terrorists are loved by their parents, their family, even the terrorists are loved by God.

Let us always remember this event. Let us always remember that this happened because a handful of people like us chose to know with certainty what was right in the world. They chose to create certainty out of belief and followed a false god. In that certainty, this is what we are capable of.

Out of the dust comes faith not certainty, not the need for revenge or even for justice -- that is in God's hands. Out of the dust comes love. For even in those moments of unbelievable horror, the horror of those who were caught in the great downfall of buildings and planes and furniture and people and all of the detritus of daily work, hands were extended, hearts were opened, many rushed toward the collapse instead of away from it. We've seen the pictures, heard the reasons, "I just had to help," "Because it's what I do," "It's my job." In the screams of "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God," that we've heard from the New Yorkers who witnessed the destruction of the towers first hand, there is a profound prayer for God's help. We've seen the determination, the love, of those who rushed toward the dust, who had faith that they could do something to help, who hoped for survivors. It is there that God resides, in that faith, that hope.

On the Sunday after that terrible day, I watched the inter-faith prayer service that was televised from Shea Stadium. A young Muslim, at the end of his prayer said, "There is one God. God Bless America, God Bless the planet." Amen.

peace for His sake

Kathryn George
Diocese of Los Angeles

Let us live in such a way that when we die our love will survive and continue to grow.-- Michael Leunig


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