Sunday, September 11, 2011

Life Is a Special Occasion -- Turning Tragedy into Triumph

I just wanted to take a moment out to remember all those who gave their lives on 9/11.  This ten year memorial is so difficult for America, but also inspiring because it reminds us of how strong and amazing America is.  I was driving this morning and listening to Story Corps on NPR.  People were calling in with their stories.  They profiled the five firefighters who carried out one of the first people from the fires -- a Franciscan friar named Fr. Mychal Judge. He was a chaplain for the NYFD.  When first tower collapsed, he rushed to the emergency command post stationed in the lobby of the second tower.  He was praying over the injured and administering last rites to the dead.  When the second tower collapsed at 9:59 am, Fr. Mychal was one of the first to die.  His last words, according to his biographer, were "Jesus please end this now! Oh God, please end this."

Fr. Mychal was known for his special ministry to those often alienated -- the homeless and those suffering from AIDS.  Once he cradled a man dying from AIDS, and said, "Do you think God doesn't approve?" He then kissed the man and continue to rock him.  He was seen giving the coat off his back to a homeless woman.  His friend and fellow priest gave the homily at his funeral and said that once Fr. Mychal said to him, "Do you know what I want?  What I really, really want?" His friend said, "No, what?" And Fr. Mychal smiled and said, "Absolutely nothing.  I am so blessed."

And what of the people in the plane who willingly overcame the terrorists and saved us from an even more terrifying tragedy?  "Let's roll" will forever be remembered as a mark of heroism because of those brave people.

We have to also remember in our prayers today all the people who are still grieving this day -- the first responders who were there and survived, the family of the thousands who were lost, the children who will never grow up with a mom or a dad.

And there's the tragedy, the gaping hole of grief left in our nation's history.  Yet, there's also hope and inspiration and triumph because we did not let this disaster ruin us -- neither financially nor spiritually.  We came together in beautiful ways both small and large that made the evil the terrorists committed seem almost pitiful.  Nothing can tear us down.

My daughters and I were at Hallmark earlier today and their new logo is: Life is a Special Occasion.  As I was driving home and reflecting on the memorial today, I thought how true that is.  This life, the one that you're living now, is special and fragile and wonderful and a gift.

On our drive home, NPR was playing audio clips of the beautiful changes the survivors of 9-11 had made.  There were stories of people reuniting with old loves, of people quitting their jobs to pursue their dreams, others going back to school, and many calling old friends and family members they'd fought with and hadn't spoken with in a long time.

And then there's the question of moving on.  How do we move through this event as a country? Can we all learn to forgive?  I asked the students in my English class to write papers on forgiveness.  They came up with some beautiful definitions:

Forgiveness is compassion in action.

Forgiveness is allowing yourself a new start.

Forgiveness is letting go of resentment and making room for joy.

Forgiveness is finding peace in yourself without seeking vengeance.

Forgiveness is releasing the pain and letting go of the wrong that has been done to you.

Sometimes the inevitable occurs and we find ourselves in predicaments where the only option left is forgiveness.

I especially like that last one because he's exactly right.  After the tragedy of 9-11, what else can we do but forgive?  It's the only road to tomorrow.

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