Posts Tagged ‘September 11’

Decades…

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

When I was a younger man attending Manhattan College in Riverdale New York (feels like 1,000,000 years ago!), my maternal grandmother – a petite and beautiful woman, with model-strait posture who very much resembled Katherine Hepburn who was born and raise on a farm in rural Western Ireland before World War I – lived with us. Because of proximity, she had a tremendous impact – though indirect – on my up-bring and on me becoming the person I am. That impact extended out from me and my family to our circle of friends and acquaintances – particularly the group of friends that I had at college. I can’t begin to tell you how many times my grandmother’s little snippets of Irish country wisdom – from things like “Self praise is no recommendation” directed at those whose view from the heights of their own pedestal had become a little too clouded, to “wish in one hand, wee in the other and see which one weighs the most” some toilet-training humor directed at me when I was a little too busy dreaming and not quite busy enough studying – brought delight to my friends, not only for their wry humor but also because of the underlying truth that gave these sayings their foundation in a knowledge earned through a life well lived. Even today when I get together with my college friends we still reminisce about these sayings and how true over time many of her lessons have proven.

My grandmother had other saying of course, one of which was “time heals all wounds” – not her’s really as I’ve heard it repeated often by others in many context. She would always try to sooth someone’s pain away by gently assuring them that – no matter the hurt – the passage of time was the salve that would close their wound forever and take all the hurt way. As with her other sayings, I never doubted the veracity of my Nan-Nan’s statement – but now, to be honest, I am not so sure. It’s not that I think that my grandmother intentionally told me something that was untrue – I can honestly say that I know for a fact that this women NEVER lied to me about anything in all our time together – its just that now perhaps my perspective has changed; all the more-so as I write this blog post from my Office in Manhattan in the days approaching the tenth anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

As anniversary’s go of course this is one that many of us – particularly those of us who were in Manhattan on that day – wish that we did not need to remember; so changed did our world become – both by the events in Manhattan and Washington and Pennsylvania on that particular day, and the consequences felt around the world because of those events to this very day – that it is with trepidation that we approach September’s coming around on the calendar. In many ways for a lot of us, such reactions are not intellectual but quite literally visceral: this was brought home to me in an all too real way only two weeks ago, on Tuesday, August 23rd. On that day as many may remember – at 2 O’clock p.m. – the Mid-Atlantic region experienced an earthquake that measure 5.8 on the Richter Scale, an unusual occurrence for sure, that interrupted cell-phone service, disrupted train travel, and caused tens of thousands to evacuate from their office buildings in some of the country’s largest population centers. So unexpected and nerve-rattling was this event that news of it spread quickly on the news-wires from coast to coast and across the globe. Thankfully no lives were lost in the event, but many structures were sadly damaged including the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. and several buildings in Catholic University of America.

Ordinarily at the time that the quake hit I would be sitting where I am right now – at my desk at the Chancery Building in Mid-town Manhattan – and probably would’ve joined the many other New Yorkers who quickly evacuated their office buildings for the street; but on that day I was fortunate enough to have had off, and was sitting in my apartment reading. I had been out earlier in the day enjoying the beauty of summer in late August: it was -I remember – a beautiful cloud free day, clear blue sky, low humidity, warm but with a cool breeze blowing. At the time of the quake I was sitting on my bed (as a studio dweller, there honestly are not many other places in my apartment to sit and read) and as such, did not experience the shaking sensation caused by the quake – most probably because the springs absorbed the shock. As a result, I was unaware that anything had indeed occurred. The first clue that I had that something was amiss was that in the span of about five minutes I received several phone calls in succession on my cell phone – from my family in Westchester, and several friends; oddly as I attempted to pick up the calls they were dropped, and when I attempted to return the calls the service was dead. At first I was perplexed, but as I sat and contemplated the coincidence of receiving these multiple calls – coupled with the lack of cell phone service, and the beautiful cloudless weather outside – my confusion turned to anxiety: I remembered this feeling….I had been in this place before. Quickly, I turned on the radio to find out what was going on, and was frankly – oddly – relieved to discover that the proximate cause of these coincidences was a minor earthquake and nothing more sinister.

Later on that evening and in the intervening weeks, I have gone back to this seemingly simple occurrence and have been surprised at my reaction: I’m usually not a person that jumps to conclusions or immediately assumes the worst in a situation…but given my experiences that afternoon – the inability to communicate with others, the feeling of helplessness in not knowing what was going on, and, oddly enough, the magnificent weather on that day – it was not my mind but something much deeper inside me that took me back to that place that I did not want to be in – a place that perhaps I sought to forget, but that my body remember all too well. It took this seemingly innocuous event – an earthquake where thankfully no one was seriously hurt – to get me to understand that no matter how much we think we have “moved on” there are some things that we cannot help but remember, and that perhaps- just perhaps – this is not such a bad thing. After all, much of what we do religiously as Catholics are acts of sacred “remembering” – everything from our participation at the Mass, where the words of the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament literally implore us to remember in our hearts and in our heads the great sacrifice that Our Lord Jesus made on our behalf, to the recitation of the Holy Rosary, where every Decade asks us to contemplate the events of the life of Our Blessed Mother: the Joyful, and the Glorious, but the Sorrowful as well. In Her ancient wisdom, perhaps the Church understands all too well not just the importance but the necessity of such remembering for we human beings, and offers in Her actions of sacred remembrance a path for us to follow approach the Tenth Anniversary of September 11, 2001.

As we remember this day, our feeling will of course return naturally to a place of tragedy, of loss, of tears, of pain that our wounds still cause us, but in remembering perhaps we should try equally to also remember – and especially honor – the place of the selfless acts of bravery, of honor, of devotion, of love, of condolence and of generosity that that day, and its aftermath, also represent. In remembering the events of 9/11, we have not only much to honor – the memory of all those we lost that day who will live forever in our hearts – but also much to be grateful for: the heroic example of our First Responders, the simple acts of compassion between strangers so evident on that day, and the generosity from those around the nation and the world who reached out to our wounded city at the time of our greatest need and offered help and prayers and love as we struggled to recover.

Perhaps the words that my grandmother spoke to me all those years ago – that “time heals all wounds” – was not literally true; time may not literally heal all wounds. What time does definitely do however is change things. So much has changed in the decade since 9/11 – in both my personal life and the world. For me, this decade has seen me leave the suburbs and – perhaps counter-intuitively – move into the city, this has in turn opened up my world tremendously, and allowed me to meet people from around our nation and across the globe. In the decade since September 11, 2001, I have developed many new wonderful friendships, and conversely have lost some of the people who were closest to me on that day. I miss them of course still – but my new friendships have given me a strength and support system that has sustained me over the intervening years. Change is always hard, but without change growth is not possible. As time inexorably changes things, as Christians, perhaps it is our role to be the balm my grandmother spoke of in her saying – to be the ones who “heal the wounds” that time creates; to work to see to it that change is for the better. In ways great and small this has always been the Christian story, and continues to be in the 21st Century. That is my prayer this Anniversary, and one for which I have hope. So much has changed in the decade since September 2001- some for the good, much for the ill – but in looking back over this decade, as obscure as it can sometimes appear going forward in time, I trust that God’s hand is at work….in fact, I know that it is…I have got the proof…for you see two weeks ago – when after the earthquake I was alone and confused  and fearful in my apartment in New York City and returned to that place I did not wish to go, the frantic phone calls that I received to check on my well being came not only from family and friends here, but from Saudi Arabia as well.

Blessings of the Fourth

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Hi readers, and welcome to the summer! Glad that you are all checking back – from my last post update you know that recently I have been busy assisting our Executive Director Msgr. Kevin Sullivan with his weekly radio broadcast “JustLove” on the work of the Church in the world on the Catholic Channel on Sirius/XM Radio. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve done some terrific shows on both the tragedy of the continuing oil spill in the Gulf, as well as a different kind of tragedy – a moral one – in the continued use of the practice of torture for last week’s observance of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. I’ll have more to say on both these topics in posts to come, but for now I’d like to share with you a bit about what we discussed on this week’s show which we dedicated to the observance of Independence Day. On this week’s show we had two guest – the eminent Federal Senior Circuit Judge John Noonan, who sits on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, as well as Dr. Patrick Griffin, Professor of American History at the University of Notre Dame. Judge Noonan spoke eloquently of what he referred to as “the luster of our Country” – the legacy of religious liberty that we American’s enjoy as a consequence of the First Amendment of our Federal Constitution – and Professor Griffin discussed some little known facts regarding the American Revolution – including the contribution of Catholics to the cause of American Independence.

While doing some of the background research for the show, I have to be honest and admit how astonished I was at the level of bigotry that existed against Catholics among the population of what was then the 13 colonies of the nascent United States:  at the time of the Revolutionary War, only three of the original 13 colonies allowed Catholics to vote; all New England Colonies except Rhode Island and the Carolinas prohibited Catholics from holding office; Virginia would have Catholic priests arrested for entering the colony; and Catholic schools were banned in every state save Pennsylvania. In the late 1760s and early 1770s, colonists routinely celebrated “anti-Pope days”, an anti-Catholic festival derived from the English Guy Fawkes Day (named for a Catholic who attempted to assassinate King James I and blow up the entire British Parliament http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Fawkes) – and these “festivals” included mock hangings and burnings of effigies of the Pope, as well as cartoons and orations linking the Pope to the devil and his minions. In fact, a little known action of the British Parliament in 1774 helped fuel some of this anti-Catholic sentiment and caused tremendous anxiety in the populace of the 13 colonies: in that year, the Parliament passed the Quebec Act – an enlightened law that let the Catholic Church remain the official Church of Quebec. This action on the part of Parliament appalled and terrified many American colonists, who assumed that this was a British attempt to subjugate them religiously by allowing the loathsome Catholics to expand into their colonies. In fact, no less of an American patriot then Alexander Hamilton said of this action of Parliament that “Does not your blood run cold to think that an English Parliament should pass an Act for the establishment of arbitrary power and Popery in such an extensive country?…Your loves, your property, your religion are all at stake!”

Thankfully, the great man George Washington rejected this Catholic bashing – though mostly for practical,  not philosophical, reasons: he was one of the first to recognize that a revolution based upon “liberty” would need to encompass a new approach to religious freedom. In addition, as Commander in Chief, Washington had to contend with the fact that Catholics were among the volunteers who were members of the Continental Army. Because of this fact, on September 14, 1775 Washington banned the burning of effigies of the Pope on “Pope Day”; and in fact, the practice of burning the Pope in effigies disappeared as a result of this decree. As a result of this tolerance, Catholic soldiers shed blood for the American cause: the Maryland militia was brimming with Catholics who helped thwart British raids from Virginia, and among the soldiers who had gone to aid Boston in its hour of need were Catholics from Maryland and Pennsylvania.

In considering this little known but critical part of our own Nation’s history, I thought of how funny it was that despite how much some things change, other things remain the same. Folks who may be reading this in other parts of the country may not be aware, but in the past few months there has been a lot of intense opposition to the Muslim community here in New York City building houses of worship for their members – both in the Brooklyn Diocese as well as here in the Archdiocese of New York in lower Manhattan and in Staten Island. In voicing opposition to these plans, some opponents have cited traffic concerns, but the overwhelming amount of objections have focused on more intangible and frankly volatile issues including:  fear of terrorism, a distrust of Islam generally and a linkage between these two concerns in protesters minds. The recent case of the Times Square bomber has only exacerbated the situation. In response to these situations and the concerns that they raise, Archbishop Dolan wisely wrote in his blog that there are “legitimate and understandable concerns…about security, safety, the background and history of the groups hoping to build…(but) what is not acceptable is to prejudge any group, or to let fear and bias trump the towering American (and for us Catholics, the religious) virtues of hospitality, welcome and religious freedom”. http://blog.archny.org/?p=725

I have to be honest that on reflecting on these situations, I have a personal history that very much effects my position on these matters. Frequent readers may recall that I have several Muslims among that great community of people that I call my friends; in fact there is a particular person in that community whom I consider one of my closest friends. I have mentioned him in a previous posting here before  http://blog.archny.org/onearth/?p=75 , and in fact – coincidentally – it was at a party on the Fourth of July I first met him. As with every human relationship be it at home in our families, at work or at play, our friendship has had its ups and downs. In fact – right at the moment – our friendship is going through a rough patch, the roots of which are – as with disagreements between friends – poorly chosen words, misunderstood actions, and hurt feelings. Added to that are some particular challenges and difficulties that come from being from two different places with different languages, cultures and customs. Still, difficult and challenging does not equal impossible. When it comes to arguments with family and friends, its always been my belief that the best thing to do is to extend to the other person “the benefit of the doubt” – for me, the relationship is almost always more valuable then the conflict that threatens it.

In a funny kind of way, this is exactly I think where some of the difficulties I discussed above have both their origin and at least some possible solution. I am almost certain that many of the people who oppose the Muslim community building a mosque in their neighborhood do so out of a place of fear and unfamiliarity, many – if not most – I’m sure do so with vivid memories of the horrors that our city endured on September 11, 2001 fresh in their minds. I share those memories as well. I also however share other memories: memories of good times shared with good friends – friends who are good people who may pray differently then I do, but who share a belief in a God who is Father to us all. I am mindful that the same prejudice that my good friends must endure today because of the unconscionable actions of 19 young men who were raised in the same faith that they were is of a kind with the prejudice that my ancestors in colonial New York may have encountered because of their faith as well. We should not forget that much of the prejudice that the non-Catholic, mostly Protestant population of the 13 colonies felt towards Catholics was born out of memories of religious persecution and wars that raged all over Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_wars_of_religion – at the hands of both Protestant and Catholic forces. There is a reason that the Rolling Stones, in their Rock and Roll anthem “Sympathy for the Devilhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX7pINBoXRc, put the line “I watched with glee while your kings and queens fought for ten decades for the gods they made” in the voice of Satan; no theologians they, Mick Jagger and his band knew that God – the loving Father of the whole human race – would never countenance killing in his name.

As regards my friend and the difficulty that we recently encountered in our friendship; it is this day one of my sincerest hopes that he and I can extend to one another the “benefit of the doubt”, mend the fences that were broken, and resume to enjoy the great times, conversations and laughs that we enjoyed in the past; in a similar way, I believe it would be a wonderful thing if we collectively could  – in this season of Independence Day – follow in the footsteps of George Washington, and in the spirit of the “Father of Our Country”  extend to another community that worships God a bit differently then ourselves the “benefit of the doubt”, mindful of the wonderful spirit of religious liberty and tolerance that truly gives a “luster to our Country”.