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You know what image from 9/11 sticks with me the most? It’s not the footage of the planes, the burning buildings, the destruction, the ash-covered firefighters, or the chaos of the streets. Yes, I think of those things when I think of September 11th — I won’t and can’t forget them — but I think of them in a very different context.
That context is the carpeted floor of my living room at the time, where, after work, I watched news footage that evening with my wife and my 17-month-old daughter. My daughter and I were lying on our tummies, on the floor, scribbling in a coloring book together.
She was facing away from the TV, oblivious to what was happening on the screen and in Lower Manhattan. I was coloring a kitty cat’s face, looking up at the TV every once in awhile, and trying not to cry.
When I think of 9/11, I think of that moment, with her. I don’t know what it says about me, psychologically or emotionally, but I do know that it helps me put all the controversy that has erupted in relation to the anniversary this year — the proposed mosque/community center, the threatened (and now, apparently, suspended) Koran burnings from a church in Florida, the Muslim cabbie stabbing in late August — in a different kind of context.
It’s not in a context of hate or intolerance or us vs. them. It’s not in a context of religion or geo-politics. But it IS in the context of our future, and of my daughter’s innocence during that moment, and of how we’ve tried to raise her in the years since, and of what dreams and hopes I have for her in the years to come (as well as for my son, who was born a couple years later).
And in that context, I keep reminding myself of these three things, echoing my friend Sarah Cunningham in this excellent post from a few weeks ago:
1. Jesus said the entire Law was summed up in the command “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
2. Jesus told his followers to “love your enemies.”
3. Jesus told his followers to “pray for those who persecute you.”
As Christians, regardless of how we feel about Muslims, the mosque, the Koran, the pastor in Florida, the terrorists, the Tea Party, the president’s religion, or the sanctity or secular-ness of Ground Zero, I am pretty sure that one of those three options applies.
Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Pray for your persecutors.
All of those options are about love, grace and healing. I’m enough of a realist to know that such lofty concepts aren’t always possible among humans — especially humans operating within a complex world of hatred and distrust — but that doesn’t mean they can’t be something we strive for.
And that doesn’t mean they can’t be attitudes I try to adopt today, in remembrance, as a Christian. As a father. As an example to the little girl with the coloring book and the impossibly blond hair, for whom I grieved on September 11, 2001, as I took note of the world she’d be growing up in.
For what it’s worth, Sarah Cunningham (mentioned above) spent two weeks at Ground Zero right after the attacks, as a volunteer supporting rescue efforts. She describes this in her book, Picking Dandelions: Discovering Eden Among Life’s Weeds, and Zondervan is giving away the full electronic version of the book starting next week. It’s worth picking up for the Ground Zero section alone. Details here.