I watched much of the memorial ceremony of that hateful day of 11 years ago this morning. A somber day to be sure, for me. I lost two good friends that day and my wife lost her cousin. Friends who worked downtown didn’t know when the funerals would stop as so many of their colleagues were now dead.
This morning however, I’ve noticed a much different feel surrounding the events of the tragic day. Our local firehouse brought out their rig and hoisted a flag from the top of it’s ladder. It was almost prideful instead of a memorial. Many went about their business on campus today without much fanfare or sadness. I forget that the youngest students on this campus were 7 years old when this tragedy occurred and that would be like asking me to remember the events surrounding Watergate or Vietnam or even the ’77 blackout which is a distant memory.
When I talk with those who can remember the subject of possible forgiveness and moving on always comes up. I always note how horrible and hateful the actions of the terrorists were. I remember hearing first about my friend Debbie, who died on the Shanksville flight after the terrorists killed her. Days later, an old college friend, Tom, was a firefighter and he was lost forever in the tower’s ashes.
And I note how I was angry. I wanted revenge and I wanted them all dead.
But I also note how in hindsight, I see how that was locking me into the very same hatred that the terrorist breed in their camps. A hatred that can only be evil and filled with revenge. A hatred that keeps me from loving and a hatred that is far from God.
Some say that only God can forgive and that it’s not our job to do so. But we pray each week to God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Easier said than done, for sure. But yet, can we have enough faith in ourselves that we can believe that our heart can indeed stretch much farther than we think it is capable of?
We can forgive. It is a first step in a healing process and begs us to take a step towards not letting hatred and evil continue to have a hold on us. We all can forgive and are called to do so.
Reconciliation, however, is another matter. That takes years of hard work. That takes a changing of heart on all sides. And sometimes we think that is also impossible. And sometime it is.
How many of us wish we had one more chance to say “I’m sorry” to a parent who is now long gone. We wish we could heal a broken relationship, but it is now too late.
Reconciliation needs forgiveness to even begin a process of tying us all back together as one fabric of humanity, where justice is not mistaken for cheap revenge and were hatred can no longer have a place at our tables. Why? Because we will have decided to welcome all to the table and to work out our differences.
When we Catholics look to our altar this is the vision we see of God, who forgives us without measure and resentment and without the need for keeping score. It’s a perfect vision of forgiveness, one we’re called to but might not ever reach. And yet God offers it to us anyway.
God loves the world and enters it and experiences all of our pain even to death. God cannot bear to be apart from us. God cannot live with divisions. And because of that desire for reconciliation with us, it costs God dearly.
God dies for us. God would rather experience a human death rather than separation from a people that often doesn’t honor him all that well for his majesty and creative love.
And so we must not settle for the status quo of revenge and must continue to move slowly towards reconciliation–repairing what has been broken from a hateful past. It will be a long journey and I’m sure that I will be an old man if we ever reach it–if I am able to see it at all. But I hope to glance at small measures of it while I am still breathing. And I hope to gather hope from it.
I’ve come to a sense of forgiveness over the years. I can indeed let go of my hatred for those who killed my friends and hope that terrorism will soon be replaced by love and conversation. I cannot become what I know is simply a perpetuation of hateful desires. I need to move in a different way, that just might call others into a more loving place.
Can we forgive? We’d better. The consequences of not doing so, will just perpetuate a cycle of violence for our future.
And nobody should have to live like that again.
But can’t we all want to love in a way that ends violence forever?