2016-06-30

Stories. Stories. Each one of us has stories about Tuesday and what has happened since. We need to tell our stories. We need to hear each other's stories. We, ourselves, are stories.

Tuesday morning at 8:45 a.m., I got out of a taxi here at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 29th Street. I heard the sound of a jet plane flying very low overhead. I looked up. I didn't see the plane, but the sound struck me as odd, because one doesn't hear big jet planes flying low over Manhattan. It doesn't happen, but this day it did.

I gave it no further thought and I went to my desk. Moments later, my younger son called me and said, "Dad, get to a television. A plane just hit the World Trade Center." As he was describing the scene, he said, "I see another plane coming. It hit the other building! What's going on? Something's happening!" And it was. And it has.

We've seen those pictures a thousand times since. For generations of Americans, things have changed permanently. For you and for me, things will not be the same again. America has changed permanently. Something has happened. For thirty years, as I would walk down Fifth Avenue and look straight ahead toward the very bottom tip of Manhattan Island, I would see those two gigantic buildings. And never did I see them without a feeling of awe and wonder that the human mind could create such mammoth, extraordinary structures.

I never paused to calculate the immense human loss if all the people, who worked in those towers, ever became the victims of some attack or calamity. Even with rescue efforts underway today, we still have no way of comprehending just what the toll will be in human loss and pain.

As I look back over the years, I recall that in the first building, Building One, there was a restaurant on the 107th floor called Windows on the World. My wife and I would often go there, bringing friends and family members from outside of the city and state. Sometimes we would enjoy special celebrations there. We would look from the south, we would look from the north, we would look from the east, we would look from the west, and see extraordinary views. We felt as if we were seeing the entire world.

Those twin towers were the symbol of American free enterprise. They were a symbol of New York and a symbol for all of the United States. They were important symbols, like the Titanic. But the Titanic has sunk again and with it, thousands of lives have been lost. It's a strange feeling now, coming down Fifth Avenue and not seeing those towers there. I'm still numb. I'm stunned. Where do we look for meaning and answers when we've lost such an important symbol and when people we knew and loved are never going to return?

Time published a special edition on the attack on America, which arrived yesterday. They called those buildings "America's cathedrals." Now the cathedrals are gone. What do we do? Where do we go?

We can go to the wisdom of the ages, the Scriptures, the wisdom of the universe, the word of God. In the 46th Psalm we read: "God is in the midst of the city. The city will not be moved. God will help it when the morning dawns."

God is. God has been. God will be. Nobody can destroy the city when God is in the midst of it. We depend on the presence of almighty God. We believe in it and have faith in it. It is an unchangeable, immovable presence.

What else do we do? What must we do for ourselves? Primary, and important--and many people are not likely to do this, but it's essential for our mental health, the health of our communities, the health of the nation--we must take time to mourn and express our grief and our anguish. We must get deeply in touch with our feelings--the feelings of sadness, the feelings of terror, the feelings of fear, the feelings of anxiety. We need to get in touch with our anger. It is important that we get in touch with our feelings, and hold them up and honor them. We need to respect them and give them time and space to do their work. It's important to go deep and get in touch with them.

That is why, on Friday morning, I went to see a therapist.

"Arthur, how are you?" he said. "How are you handling yourself?"

"I'm fine." I said. But I knew inside that I wasn't, and he knew that too. And then I told him how I had built a protective wall around my emotions. I had allowed none of the pain or anguish to get in. I had kept it all outside. I was protecting myself from hurt, from pain and from feeling.

"Arthur, have you cried?" he asked me.

"No, not really," I said. "There were a couple of times when I started to, but I stopped it right away."

"Tell me about them," he said. "And as you do, cry."

And I said, "I got a call from out of state, from somebody very important to me, in whom I've invested so much of myself. We had become estranged. This person had even refused to take my calls. But that person called after the disaster and when I heard that voice--'Arthur, are you all right?'--I started to cry. But I cut it off."

"Cry now," he said. And I did.

"What was the other instance?" he asked.

"This was a strange one for me," I said, "but when I heard that two of the terrorists rented a car in my hometown of Portland, Maine, drove to Boston and came and did that dastardly thing, that got to me. There are two places that I feel that I belong, that I am passionately in love with--New York City and the coast of Maine--and both were involved, and somehow that got to me."

And I cried in his office. I learned years ago that it's one thing to cry by yourself, but it's very healing to cry in the presence of a significant other person.

"How are you feeling now?" he asked.

"I feel sad, overwhelming sadness," I answered.

And he began to help me explore the sadness, and the other avenues and tributaries of my life where sadness exists. I began to discover why these two incidents got to me.

And he said, "Arthur, I hope you can stay in this place of sadness." And I have. The sadness is still with me, but identifying the feeling and talking it out has relieved some pressure.

Some of you may be feeling sadness. Others of you may be feeling something different. Many of you are feeling intense anger. You're enraged. That's a legitimate feeling. Let it be, and honor it. Only share it with a thoughtful person so that it doesn't get solidified and eventually become destructive.

I have told you a part of my story. You have your story, your journey, your emotions. But please, go down deep, get in touch with the deepest feeling, and let it come out. And give it time. Give it space.

We go again to the Scriptures, to the wisdom of the universe. Jesus said: "Blessed are you who mourn." Better off are you who mourn, who grieve, who express your sense of loss, for you shall be comforted. And what He meant by that is, "You will be made whole again."

And then we know that Jesus, with a great reality check, also said, "In this world there will be tribulation, but take comfort. I have overcome the world." Then He said: "In this life you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy."

What are we confronting when we deal with this horrific thing that has happened? We're dealing with evil. We're dealing with evil that is expressed with vicious, vicious hatred. It is anger gone mad. And when anger goes mad, when anger goes wild, it destroys.

If we were to know the personal histories of each of these terrorists, I'm certain that we would learn that somewhere in their lives, early on, they were rejected, they were hurt, they themselves were terrorized. And rather than work through the mournfulness and the grief of the emotions that hurt them, they, the victims, became the victimizers.

Victims become victimizers. This is a pattern that we all know happens again and again. When something bad happens to us, we go back and inflict the pain and the hurt on somebody else. We have to stop the cycle. We cannot institutionalize an anger that has been rigidly formed in our hearts with bitterness and vengeance.

One of our Deacons, who is present today, is a top executive at American Express, whose building was across the street from the World Trade Center. When the disaster happened, she evacuated her building, left everything there, and walked up to the Church. When she entered a room where a group of staff had gathered, she began to sob. Later she and I went out for a sandwich, accompanied by two members of the Church's staff. As we talked, we spoke about the dark side of the human being.

Some of you remember Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who spoke from this chancel a number of years ago. She wrote the seminal work on grief, "Death and Dying." In her talk, she spoke about the dark side of humanity, and gave a name to it. She said, "Each one of us has a Hitler within," which means that each one of us has within us potential for evil, for hatred and destruction.

Our Deacon, that intelligent, balanced, gentle and sensitive woman, talked with us about the feelings she was dealing with. She told us that a number of years ago, when she lived in the Midwest, her husband had been murdered in an adulterous relationship.

Justice had never been served, and she said that whenever she saw someone who slightly resembled the other woman, she was angry enough to kill. Anger can do such things to us. But we must be careful with our anger, and how to express it.

The other night, on CNN, Judith Miller, a writer for The New York Times, said, "We must be careful that we do not become the enemy we are fighting." I'm going to repeat that again: "We must be careful that we do not become the enemy we are fighting."


We must seek justice, but not with vengeance. We go again to the Scriptures, to the wisdom of the universe, to the word of God, which says: "'Vengeance is mine,' says the Lord."

Our national leaders will be planning some kind of response. Let us pray that the cycle is broken and that the response is finding some way to locate these people and bring them to justice, and not to annihilate people as we have been annihilated.

Jesus spoke to just this question in one dramatic moment of His life. He was being arrested the night before He died. As the soldiers were arresting Him, Peter drew his sword and cut off the ear of one of them. And Jesus sternly said, "Enough of this, Peter. Put your sword back. Enough of this." He was pointing to another way. And we have got to find that other way. With all of the darkness, with all of the nastiness and the horror and the sadness of this evil, we still see the greatness of the human spirit. We see extraordinary bigness. We see the wonder, we see the grandeur, we see the excitement, we see the beauty, we see the saintliness of human beings--the best of the human spirit.

The other night I was on a panel with Bill Moyers on public television. In the televised segment before our panel was on, Bill Moyers did a very poignant thing. He showed pictures of scenes of people in stress and pain. In the narrative was a litany: "We were coming down," said a man, "and they were going up. We were running out of the building. We were going for our lives, and they were going up. We were coming down, and they were going up." The ones going up were the firemen, and nearly every one of them went to his death. They responded to the call and became great.

Over the decades of time, when we have been needing greatness, God has lifted up people. We have seen the greatness and the grandeur and the wonder of the human spirit here in America, in Abraham Lincoln. In India, there was Mahatma Gandhi. In England, there was Winston Churchill. In America, there was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And today, in New York City, we have hundreds, if not thousands, of super-heroes. They are ordinary people who, when all the others were coming down, were going up.

I have hope; I have tremendous hope. I saw one beautiful scene, reported on the news. It was tragic, but beautiful. On hearing of the tragedy, a chaplain for the Fire Department changed from his clerical garb into fireman's protective clothing and went down to the disaster area. As he was giving last rites to a dying fireman, he took off his cap. In an instant he was hit by falling debris and was killed. And the firemen around him picked him up, took him to the altar of a nearby church, and left him there as they went out to rescue others. This is the beauty of the human spirit. The greatness of the human condition.

On Wednesday night, I participated in an interfaith service at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, sponsored by the Partnership of Faith, a partnership of Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim clergy. There, at the altar of that church, Rabbi Ronald Sobel and Shaykh Ali, both of whom have been on this chancel and have preached in this Church, were speaking together, in a brotherly embrace. They represent very different backgrounds. There has been so much hostility between faith groups, and yet those two men were together. I have hope, because I have witnessed the beauty and the greatness of the human spirit.

We will rise again, and we will be a greater people. Again we go to the Scriptures, to the wisdom of the universe, to something that Jesus said to His disciples that we really haven't tried yet. We haven't tried it yet because we don't believe it really is going to work. But those few individuals who have tried it over the centuries know that it does work, and it makes the difference. Then, and only then, will the world be healed, when we do what we were taught to do when Jesus said to His disciples: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you."

It's a hard thing to do, but when we do it, it works. St. Paul gives us these specifics on love: "Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not boastful; it is not arrogant; it is not rude. Love is respectful. Love bears all things, hopes all things, believes all things. There are three things in this world: faith, hope and love. Faith is important. Hope is essential. But the greatest of them is love."

Our Father God, be with us in our grief. Help us to be in touch with the feelings. Help us to work through the feelings, that we might be comforted. And, Lord God, please, please, help us to love. Amen.
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