As I do each year on September 11th, I am listening to the Reading of the Names during the live coverage of the 9/11 Memorial Services in New York City at Ground Zero. Each time, now fifteen years later, I am still deeply affected by the sheer volume of 3,000 names, people I never knew. The simplicity and poignancy and power of names. Names from all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, genders. Murdered by hatred and insanity. I watch the families react to hearing names of their loved ones and I am affected, too.
I know the ripping of a heart, the breaking of a spirit. I didn’t have to know someone who died in 9/11 to feel the deep grief of loss. The stealing of life. I can hardly breathe when I attempt to put myself in the shoes of someone trying to escape the inferno of Tower 1 or Tower 2 from the 89th floor. Each September 11th I have wondered how I might have acted in the face of something so terrifying; I have asked myself if I would have been as brave as the passengers on Flight 93, knowing I’d die either way?
I again think of the thousands of lives lost. Black and White; Italian and Indian; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist. Custodians, Vice Presidents. First Responders. Heterosexual. Homosexual. Transsexual. What did any of that matter, really?
As a native of Connecticut and then a long-time resident of Washington, D.C., I have never felt more lonely, more separate, and more different than I did on September 11th, 2001, out here in rural Minnesota, where few people had ever even traveled to the east coast, let alone had lived there. People here did not seem to understand what it might feel like to see the cities in which you lived attacked. Places you visited, walked by each day. I was speechless when several people here had told me they’d never even heard of the World Trade Center. I was stunned by the laissez-faire reaction of so many Central Minnesotans. Responses like “That’s why we live in Minnesota,” or “Gosh, that’s a shame.” A shame? A SHAME?!?
Because of 9/11, most of us have had to re-examine our world, our ideas of safety; some have sadly changed our beliefs of who is an “American” and who is not. Many Americans, though, have been inspired to widen their knowledge of the world, and embrace a larger vision, a more accurate vision. Others have closed ranks, shriveled up, and pushed away those who are “different.” There are a great deal of people in Central Minnesota have done this. We see evidence of it everywhere, from the obvious anti-Immigrant sentiments to the cultural status quo of not being interested in new things or new people. It’s no secret I am an outsider. I am often unceremoniously reminded of this when people say to me, “You’re not from here, are you?” This is not said with curiosity or excitement, but judgment. In case you weren’t sure, the subtext is “You’re different. We don’t like ‘different.’” It begs the question: How do we define our humanity? Is it reserved only for those we know?
I know this area has the capacity to love and support people in need. I’ve recently seen the local outpouring of love and and sympathy for Wetterling family. In fifteen years here it is one of only times I have seen evidence of widespread and public compassion in support of another.
On important days like September 11th, a holy day of mourning, we can honor the memories of those murdered by examining our own definition of humanity. So, I guess this “outsider” invites you to consider: is your compassion and kindness only for families you know, or with whom you have some sort of Minnesotan connection? Have you only room in your hearts for people like you? I am not suggesting that you do. Just examine.
And a request: Will you consciously widen your circle? Isn’t the human experience beyond our own backyards, our boats, and cabins?How do we define our humanity? Is it reserved only for those we know? Click To Tweet
What better day to embrace this idea, on a day of National Mourning. We know it it is so much easier to be obsessed with hatred rather than filled with grief. The barren and disgusting reality of hatred was borne out in the attacks on our fellow Americans in New York City, Washington D.C., and in Pennsylvania. But what does hatred do for us? It closes us off, stunts our education, and deprives us of the natural evolutionary process of our souls. Grief, on the other hand, is a holy experience, a transformative experience. Grief can encourage our humanity, our empathy, and our connections to one another.
That’s why September 11th is a holy day for me. To remind me I am part of the human race, that I am willing to grieve for those I’ve never met, to allow grief to re-ignite my own humanity, to keep my heart painfully open, and to never forget that hatred is a vile and murderous emotion that will never triumph over love.