In light of the recent tragedy…

“In light of the recent tragedy . . .” How many times in the days following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 did we hear that expression as a preface to announcing a change of plans? It became a commonplace, used in reference to everything from air travel to supply chains to sporting events to political strategizing to impromptu worship services.

What was intended as a purely utilitarian phrase contained a certain inadvertent hopefulness. Taken literally, it suggested that this awful tragedy had brought forth light. Did the events of September 11, casting such a long, ominous shadow across our land, really bring light? And if so, what was illumined?

Several passengers flying on September 11, in light of events unfolding on their very plane, took the opportunity to call home from their cell phones. “I love you,” was the prevalent message relayed by those who, in light of impending doom, decided, curiously, that what mattered most was not withdrawing in panic but reaching out in affection.

Office workers in a 100-story tower, in light of events occurring moments earlier in the next tower over, made similar calls and sent similar emails to friends and family–words of appreciation, of love, of connection.

My relationships with Muslim colleagues were never stronger than after 9/11, as though in light of the horrific events of that day, and the malevolent generalizations that characterized certain public discourse in the days and weeks following, we realized how much we needed each other’s friendship and mutual understanding. Interfaith relationships across the board have been stronger in my various arenas of ministry—including Laurel Heights—ever since. In the coming weeks Laurel Heights will share in an interfaith effort to provide welcome and home to Afghan refugees as they arrive in our city.

In light of the events of 9/11, what did we come to see better than we had previously? What people, practices, and traditions did we come to love more deeply? What freedoms did we cherish more dearly? What assumptions or stereotypes were we ready to discard more readily? What hopes and dreams did we cling to with greater tenacity? Are we a worse nation since 9/11? I believe in many ways we have become better.

In a sense, September 11th, 2001 plunged our nation into a profound darkness. The collectively excruciating experience of losing so much of so much in so brief a moment is still, twenty years later, difficult to fully comprehend. The day lives alongside December 7, 1941 in infamy. In another sense, however, we know that God works for good in all circumstances—historical as well as communal and personal—and that through the inscrutable mechanisms of grace, beyond that dark moment in our history, light followed.

Grace and peace.