I remember the day well, like the baby boomer generation before me recalling their memories of where they were when they heard about President Kennedy, I have a vivid recollection of September 11, 2001. I was 25 years old, living in St. Louis, MO and working as a social worker for the State Department of Mental Health. It was an emotionally demanding job, with lots of stressors, little gratitude, and poor pay. But I was young, optimistic and determined to help make the world a better place. In addition to working well over 40hrs a week, I was in Seminary full time. That morning, I did my usual morning routine, enjoying the sun come through the east-facing windows of my 7th-floor apartment in the Central West End, some coffee, morning prayers and quiet time. As I was getting dressed for work, I flipped on the TV – not my normal routine, my TV was small, black and white and a little fuzzy most of the time. But I turned it on anyway to hear the news. Of course, I didn’t expect to see the horrific sight of a burning tower in New York City. I watched for a few moments to assess the whole story (as much as we knew at the time), and then I rushed to work.
Inside the state building, everyone was huddled around cubicles with radios and a few with small TV’s. There, huddled with my co-workers we witnessed the second plane hit the other tower and we watched as people jumped out of windows to their death. Soon we were interrupted by news that all federal buildings and employees would be sent home for safety. Rumors ran wild about how much potential danger various state capitols might be in. We waited anxiously to see if state employees would be sent home as well, certainly none of us could function in our work. Finally, the word came, the state capitol was shut down and all non-essential state employees were to go home. Social workers, however, were considered among the essential group.
I was furious that we could not go home, we had no idea if we were in any real danger by remaining in the building and regardless of the answer to that question, we were all in shock. We had experienced trauma. We were told to return to our cubicles and try to get some administrative work done. I tried, but I could not. I needed to feel, to grieve and to process. I could not return to work as normal. Now keep in mind, I was a young single man with virtually no real strings to New York City at the time. I did not have children that I was thinking of or a cousin or friend who worked in the building or any of the hundred other way that many people had close ties to this tragic event. Still, I was numb and unable to work.
Then I heard on the radio that a local church was opening its doors to anyone who needed a safe place to be, a place to gather and help comfort each other. It was St. Xavier Cathedral on the campus of St. Louis University. They announced on the radio that the sanctuary was open and that a service would be held later that afternoon. I told my supervisor that I was going to the service. She said I could not leave the building. I told her I could not stay.
When I arrived, people were pouring in from everywhere, walking down the street – parking blocks away. Loudspeakers were set up on the front steps of the church and the crowd flowed out of the church, onto the steps and into the street. It was surreal. Clearly, people needed a place to come together and be a community. I needed to be there.
I learned a lot that day, about the value of community, the power of space and the responsibility of the church to minister to the needs of the people. It sparked a fire for social justice as and through the church that has never left me.
I don’t remember everything the priest said at the service – but I do remember this:
as we come together to grief, let us remember that God works through broken hearts
9-11 was not only the end of our innocence as a nation, it was also the beginning of our vulnerability. It was, as all trauma is, the end of our separation and isolationist thinking and the beginning of a long journey home to one humanity. Yes, God works through broken hearts. When we are broken open by life’s experiences, we are made available to a deeper and more authentic connection to our source. That’s the power of vulnerability. It looks like weakness because it involves the removing of our layers of protection, and safety. But the truth is we were never separate from each other to begin with, therefore life will always seek to reunite us to the power of our Oneness.
We all have stories of how life has knocked us around along the way.
It is important to tell your story so that you can open to your power.
“…the initial trauma and devastation of violence unites human beings for a relatively short period of time. If during that initial period of unity we’re allowed to talk openly about our collective grief and fear–if we turn to one another in a vulnerable and loving way, while at the same time seeking justice and accountability–it can be the start to a very long healing process. If, however, what unites us is a combination of shared hatred and stifled fear that’s eventually expressed as blame, we’re in trouble.” – Brene Brown
Last Sunday when I was talking about The Law of Creativity, I shared about how polarized and divided we have become as a Nation. That we are witnessing the genocide of rationality and a deep entrenchment into ideological camps that keep us separated. A virtual twin towers of ideological isolationism. Us and Them. And as disturbing as this is, there is a way out.
The power of our creative thought is bigger than our polarization
“I do believe, however, that most of us can build connection across difference and fight for our beliefs if we’re willing to listen and be vulnerable. But if we’re not even willing to try, the value of what we’re fighting for will be profoundly diminished. True belonging has no bunkers. We have to step out from behind the barricades of self-preservation and brave the wild. When we race to our customary defenses–of political belief, race, religion, you name it–we don’t have to worry about being vulnerable or brave or trusting. We just have to toe the party line.
Except doing that is not working. Ideological bunkers protect us from everything except loneliness and disconnection. Huddled behind them, we’re left unprotected from the worst heartbreaks of all.” – Brene Brown
with that in mind, as we honor and remember the lives lost, the heroes revealed and the innocence broken, let us use this anniversary of 9-11 to come together. Find someone and share your story;
- Where were you that day, how did it impact you both then and now?
- What are your hopes and dreams for our children and our world?
Be willing to open up and be vulnerable. Our healing depends on it.
A broken heart is an open heart. As we open our hearts to each other I pray that we discover the eternal truths that we have more in common with each other than we ever thought before.
Be well my friends.
– Rev. David Alexander