As I do every year on September 11, this morning I listened to All that You Can’t Leave Behind by U2 in its entirety on my way to work.
After its release, I listened to it every day on my commute into lower Manhattan; from Beautiful Day (opening track) to Grace (closing track) I find myself entranced with the arc of the album; which I interpret to be about birth, loss, struggles with grief, and – at last – peace). I loved the closing track so much as asked my wife that we consider naming one of our triplets Grace (although I am not sure that she knew my motivation until, perhaps, right now).
I was sitting at my desk at MasterCard when we heard the news that there was a fire in the World Trade Center. As the morning progressed we were glued to our computer monitors and the TVs that hung from the walls in our conference rooms. We stood there without making a sound looking at papers rain down like some evil ticker-tape parade. Then we saw what we thought were pieces of the building fall down; although they weren’t parts of the building. They were people.
After the towers came down, I ran into our CEO Bob Sealander on the south side of our building. We were looking out the window staring at a plume of smoke in the distance rising up to the sky like a burnt offering. We stood there speechless with a look of consternation on our faces as if to suggest, WTF has happened?
The day went on and then the stories came. “I have not heard from Keri,” said my friend Nick whose fiancée (now wife) worked at the World Financial Center. She came home, but he was in therapy for a while over it. Other’s did not make it home. My friend Cate lost her brother.
It was such a beautiful day up until just before 9 am. Today it remains hard to wonder what special brand of hate could even dream up such a plot; to hijack 4 planes and attempt to fly them into buildings. We were all stuck in a moment and I have not been able to forget that moment and perhaps never will until the day I am, hopefully, elevated out of this world and into the world that awaits.
I watch the footage every year. As much as I reflect on the loss and pain of the families of the victims, I am touched by the site of people walking on – hand in hand – away from ground zero. Supporting each other. Comforting each other. It’s a remembrance of our own humanity; that as much as we can destroy, we can also build up.
When I was younger my father used take my brother Jimmy and me to Peter’s elementary school in Plantation Florida to fly kites. I remember being upset when my kite, which had Superman printed on it, got stuck in a tree and we could not get it out. Superman wasn’t supposed to get caught in a tree I thought to myself. Since 9/11 I think we have all been waiting for someone like Superman to come and save us, to defend our honor and liberty. To make it right.
Immediately after 9/11 President Bush was standing at ground zero stating that in a little while the world would hear our response – Superman was coming at last I thought. Our response came, and a decade later the leader of the group responsible paid the ultimate price for the actions of 9/11 – but yet I still weep. I remain unsatisfied because I know that hate that fueled the attacks on that September day still remains. I yearn for the repentance that a man who survived on locusts and wild honey called for over 2,000 years ago while fasting in a desert waiting for a Messiah. Until evil repents for its hatred, we will not have peace on earth.
When I look at the world 11 years later it is with a different lens. I am now a father of three beautiful children and I try to raise them to be kind, understanding, and tolerant of all people. I cannot shelter them from the hate that lives in our world but I can certainly teach them through words and example how not to add to it. As such, when they have questions about those who are different from us, whether those differences result from religion, race, or orientation, I try to teach them to respect others for their differences because they make the world a more colorful place; and colors are good!
I spend a lot of time in New York and I must say it is my favorite city on the planet. It has a unique energy to it and it almost feels as if it has its own soul. Its neighborhoods are as diverse as its inhabitants and visitors. People from all different walks of life live together in this city that is still healing from the events of 11 years ago. Perhaps that is the key to peace – experiencing grace through tolerance.
Grace, it’s the name for a girl
It’s also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything
Finding goodness in the face of tragedy is challenging even for the most optimistic among us yet doing so separates the light from the darkness. Responding to hatred with hatred only leads to more hatred. Responding to hatred with acts of love changes the world.