When I wrote this column one year ago today we were in shock. Hours after the attack on America I changed the letter which I had composed the day before. “Everything has changed,” we said. And, in some ways, it has.
A year ago today thousands of families were living with uncertainty about the fate of loved ones. Fires were burning at the World Trade Center site and the Pentagon. In a truly heroic act of self-sacrifice someone on Flight 93 said, “Let’s roll,” and they crashed the would-be bomb into a field in Pennsylvania. Thousands of workers converged to fight the fires and search for survivors. Incredibly, some who had been in the lower section of one of the towers when it collapsed survived. Many thousands fled to safety, shaken but alive.
Tragically, thousands lost their lives, and for the past year we’ve watched as the DNA given by families identified the remains of many of the victims. We’ve listened with stunned attention as accurate information was painstakingly gathered-information about the victims, information about the cause of the collapse of the towers, information about the heroes on flight 93. We listened with outrage about the fanatical perpetrators of this evil deed–the training that helped them to fly the planes into three of their intended targets-and so forth.
We were shocked. Stunned. We participated in collective grief and mourning. A moving memorial service was held here for Scott and Keith Coleman, attended by several hundred mourners who filled every possible meeting space in our building with closed circuit television screens, offering sympathy to the Coleman family and mutual support to one another.
As American citizens we experienced a vulnerability not felt since World War II, in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. But this was different. This was a non-military target with innocent civilians. We’ve had to sort through a variety of conflicting feelings about the way we’ve waged war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Now we’re faced with the possibility of a first-strike attack against Iraq which many of us are not convinced is appropriate.
Beneath all of these terrible events is a deep inner rumbling, a shaking of the foundations and a terrible turmoil–a crisis of faith. We’ve been asking deep and difficult questions–questions about religion, about God, and about the nature of evil, and the shadow side of our human condition.
Turning the page on this year’s calendar, we’re relieved to see September 12 appear. We’re hoping to take another step up the rocky road. We’ve been sifting through the ashes of this difficult year, individually and together. We hope to begin a new chapter–we hope hate won’t dominate the deep and delicate animating spirit we need to preserve the faith, hope and love we need to preserve the soul.
May that special spirit be with you now and in the years ahead.