Sunday, September 11, 2016

Observing 9/11

There have been references to 9/11 here. In 2013, for example, I wrote A Thought for September 11 and even earlier, in 2011, I shared anniversary thoughts in Ten Years Later, so it might be time to move on and let the past be the past. Indeed, “move on” was the phrase I used in the 2011 post: “Yet ten years later, as the anniversary of 9/11 approached, most of us had moved on. We are living in a different world now and, yes, one greatly changed by the actions of that horrible day. But we had — nevertheless — moved on.”

Have we? Now I'm not quite so sure. Conversations with several friends over the past few days, and especially with two special and long-time friends (one in England and one in Germany) make it clear that, yes, the world has changed and today’s world has little in common with the pre-9/11 world. So it is undoubtedly a “different” world we inhabit nowadays. But is it a better world? Did we learn anything from 9/11? Did we fix anything?

Canterbury Cathedral
(Photo: Andrew Berner)
Many of my friends like to characterize me (sometimes teasingly) as one variation of that sort of “eternal optimist” we hear about from time to time. Others pick up on my habit of putting out of my mind (usually without realizing it) any “bad things” that happen and literally not remembering them, even when I’m reminded that they happened.

Perhaps both characterizations fit but I’m now realizing — for perhaps the first time in fifteen years — that I’m beginning to arrive at some sort of emotional maturity about 9/11 (acceptance?), although I expect my situation at the time wasn’t particularly unique. All of us went through the horrors of the experience and in many respects I'm sure what happened to me was not unlike things that happened to others. Nevertheless, my experience affected me.

In my case, I was in a meeting at the Pentagon when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Someone rushed into our meeting with the news and almost immediately a huge television on the wall came alive and on it we witnessed the second airplane crashing into the second tower. Not long after (I don't know how long but I think I passed out or something, because I remember someone bringing me around), I was able to leave the building to get to my rental car. While driving out of the now very crowded circular highway around the Pentagon, I saw the airplane targeted for Washington dive into the building. All the traffic sped away as fast as we could get out of there. Once back at the hotel — where watching Peter Jennings I remained mesmerized for the rest of the day — all I could think about was getting back to New York (as I was able to do on the first train back to New York the next day).

Die Neue Synagoge — Berlin
(Photo: Andrew Berner)
So 9/11 was a truly unbelievable experience but, as I say, not only for me but I suppose for millions of others as well. And what came of it, on the personal level for us as citizens of the world or as citizens of wherever we happen to live? I don’t know the answer to that question and being neither a philosopher nor particularly religious (I’m probably one of those “none” believers we hear about from the Pew Research Center) but even thinking in those directions, I am not sure that is where the answer lies. Nevertheless — and as a little aside — I continue to be impressed with what some of the recognized philosophers have to say. And I continue to respect people who have faith. I enjoy sacred music (particularly choral sacred works) and visiting monuments of faith, as we might call them. When I travel, I take special pleasure in seeing these magnificent buildings and having them captured in photos (some shown here). And there's no question but that I open my heart to the many generations of ages past whose faith led them to expect some version of “deliverance” as society moved forward and how they demonstrated their faith in constructing these splendid religious monuments.

La Mezquita — The Great Mosque of Córdoba
(Photo: Andrew Berner)
And not just people of the past, for there are believers today, whether believers in some religious faith or simply humanists and enlightened thinkers who believe in the “goodness of man” (as it is sometimes expressed). But are we advancing? Of course the world has changed since 9/11, and in ways that demonstrate clearly that the pre-9/11 world will never return. Yet knowing full well that our world will never be the same again, how do we get beyond what we are witnessing and truly frightened about? Most of the people I know (myself included) are considerably distressed with the nasty political battle going on in the United States, and the possibility of destroying the society we have and building a new society based on lies and hatred (of immigrants and any "others" who seem to be so casually identified). Despite our faith in humanity — no matter how limited — such a society is destined to self-destruct and, I fear, to do so sooner rather than later. We are very frightened and while we try to be optimistic, it is difficult. We feel it all around us. Everyone is frightened.

Marble Collegiate Church
(Photo: Marble Collegiate Church)
So what conclusions are left for us? Where do we go from here? Believing strongly in that optimism I’m characterized with I want our society — local, regional, nationally, and yes, even internationally — to advance, and while there are no simple answers to the question, I think we must look to two points of view that in my opinion would give us strength. And perhaps might help us deal with what we're up against.

One, not surprisingly, is simply trust. No long definitions of trust or the value of trust are required at this point. We know what we are talking about and all we have to do is have the strength (and especially ask our leaders to have the strength) to think in terms of trust and not in terms of “gotcha.”

And there’s more: What would happen if we returned to the almost simplistic leadership (speaking of leaders) of one of the most talked-about people of the past? Wasn’t it the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale — at Marble Collegiate Church just a few blocks from where I now live — who urged a mantra of “positive thinking”? Of course the idea as formalized and preached by Dr. Peale was and remains controversial. And certainly “positive thinking” as described by Dr. Peale is not advocated by many serious thinkers today. But what would our world be like if, in fact, our leaders (not just, but especially world leaders) replaced fright and hatred with a positive approach to getting along? I know nothing about diplomacy but I can’t help but wonder if such an approach it possible. Probably not, but the words — even if only as words just because they are out there and part of our vernacular — could be given some thought. Could this be a direction for our post 9/11 society?

1 comment:

Deb Hunt said...

Thanks so much, Guy, for a very thoughtful and timely essay. I too waffle between optimism and pessimism, but tend to the optimistic side as I still have faith that good will overcome evil. I too hope our world leaders will err on the side of trust and optimism, though I'm sure they are privy to information we don't know. Nevertheless, I am optimistic after the agreement reached with Russia about Syria. I hope it holds. Perhaps we can get them all to listen to the beautiful and moving music that seems to melt away hatred and moves us to be and do better. I know that sounds simple, but we need to find common ground. Not sure what that is, but music has soothed souls for centuries. I hope it brings healing to those whose loved ones perished on 9/11 or from injuries sustained.