9/11/16 Sermon (St. Andrew’s, Northford)
Fifteen years ago today, I was brushing my teeth, listening to Imus in the Morning on my clock radio. (I know, I know…I’m not an Imus kind of guy…I’m a Public Radio kind of guy…but he was, from time to time, dreadfully amusing--accent on 'dreadful'!)
Imus said something about a plane flying into the World Trade Center, so I went to our TV room, upstairs, and turned it on.
Bern had left early for a dental appointment, so I was alone when the second plane hit the second tower. I had my toothbrush in my mouth and couldn’t comprehend what was happening. Suddenly I heard Bern’s pickup truck skid into the driveway outside in a way I’d never heard before. I listened to her tear open the front door and run up the steps calling my name as I watched, stunned and numb, as two skyscrapers burned.
Bern ran into the TV room and said, horrified and breathless: “The kids…the kids!!!)
Suddenly it occurred to me that both our children lived in Brooklyn, just across the river from the World Trade Center and I should be worried and terrified, not stunned and numb.
It took a couple of hours to reach both Josh and Mimi. Mimi came up out of a subway near 890 Broadway and saw smoke in the sky. It was her first day of work at the American Ballet Theatre. We would talk with her as she walked back to Brooklyn.
Josh was a law student living with a classmate who is now our daughter in law and mother of three of our granddaughters. He could see the twin towers from the street where they lived. Cathy Chen, his love, had taken a subway to Manhattan just a half-hour before. He was frantic. He couldn’t call her on her cell phone. Her train would have stopped at the World Trade Center exit.
Josh stayed outside most of the day. Cathy got in touch as she walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and Josh called us. Mimi and Tim, her boyfriend and now husband and parents of our fourth granddaughter, found each other walking home over the Williamsburg Bridge.
They were all safe. Praise God. But thousands weren’t.
I went to St. John’s in Waterbury because I expected people might want to talk to someone about all this that was happening. Harriet and Sue, our office folks, and I were watching the news on Harriet’s computer—still total confusion and terror. We watched the buildings fall.
My assistant at the time wasn’t watching with us. She was doing busy work and calling people about other things. I asked if she would come and watch with us.
She told me this: “it’s just the chickens coming home to roost.”
I let out a gasp and said, “you can’t say that Right Now. Maybe, years from now you can connect what our nation has done to this. But not now, not for years. Thousands are dead and dying. You can’t say that!”
She ignored me and left a short time after. Our friendship and working relationship was over. She left St. John’s a few months later.
But losing a friend and a colleague is nothing at all compared to the sons/daughters, wives/husbands/lovers, fathers/mothers, sisters/brothers lost that awful day. Nothing at all to that pain. Nothing at all.
The pain of 9/11 is beyond calculation. It continues still, 15 years later. And it will never be healed. It may be ‘moved beyond’, but never ‘healed’. Never. Not ever.
But we must not forget this: the lost sheep, the lost coin in today's gospel. We must not lose them.
A great deal of irrational hatred was spawned by 9/11—hatred of good people, good Muslims, good Americans.
In 2001, there was a mosque that met in the parish hall of St. John’s in Waterbury. We had shared much with them. We knew them well. We stood by them—they were the lost sheep, isolated by the hatred around them. They were the lost coin, branded because some, claiming to be of their faith, had created terror.
Here is what I believe (and this is ‘just me talkin’) this painful anniversary calls upon you and me to do. We must love, not hate. We must embrace the stranger, not reject them. We must know the value of the ‘lost’ in our midst. We must never let pain turn to hate, fear turn to anger.
All Americans were attacked that day, not just some of us.
That is how we give honor to those who died, by refusing to be divided and set against each other.
We must seek out and save those ‘lost’ because of irrational hatred. We must sweep the floor of those who would polarize and divide us.
We must remember that we all arrived on these shores lost and rejected and celebrate how diverse we are as a people: racially, ethnically, culturally and spiritually.
To truly move on from that awful day 15 years ago, we must embrace the diversity that truly makes us strong…that truly makes us One.
To do less than that is to dishonor those who died that tragic day.