Saturday, 10 September 2011

Nine Eleven

Everyone has their own memories of that beautiful early autumn day ten years ago with a clear blue sky and a smiling sun and the promise of glorious days ahead before the cold weather. I had a student living and working with me in the parish and we were just putting things away after a toddler service in church when one of our regular congregation rushed in and said, 'Go home and put your television on. Something is happening in America.' She couldn't tell us any more.  We rushed home to put the telly on. I remember seeing a plane crash into a building and thinking, 'Ah, wrong channel, it's a film.' So I hopped to another channel and saw the same image. It was at that point we both realised this was seriously not normal. I remember the next few days as a time of confusion with people desperately trying to find out what had happened to friends in the USA - it seemed everyone, including my student, knew someone who might have been in New York - and a time when people came to church in large numbers to express their shock and outrage and sorrow. The church was packed two nights later as we met for prayer and to light candles and remember those who had died. Somehow Vivaldi's Nulla in Mundo Pax Sincera  and Barber's Adagio had already become almost synonymous with the event, much as some of Gorecki's music, such as his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, is bound up with the forced migrations across Europe in the 1940's.

People say the world changed. It undoubtedly did for those who were immediately involved and certainly the political scene shifted, but I find myself wondering about how much real change there has been in terms of international relationships and human attitudes. My mother commented that the images from New York gave her the same feeling of total unreality that she had experienced when watching the bombing of London from Greenwich during the second world war. The West had experienced terrorism and terrorist attacks before but what seemed to be new about this was the scale of it and the fact that the USA had been under attack on its own soil and had, for a few brief hours, wondered if it was going to suffer something much worse and much more widespread.

Reflecting on it ten years later, we still feel revulsion at the fact that terrorists chose to squander their own lives in order to destroy, almost at random, thousands of innocent people. As a result of 9/11, we, in Britain, are more aware of the attitude of the rest of the world to the USA and to Western Europe. I remember travelling to Asia before 2001 and feeling anti-American, sometimes anti-British currents which were seldom then reflected in our media but were prevalent and forceful. But has very much changed for the better in the last decade? There does not seem to be a qualitative difference in understanding between cultures and world views.  Many thousands of innocent citizens and service men and women have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan; people have been unjustly imprisoned in attempts to save us from the effects of further, more wide-spread terrorism. Power has changed hands; oppression, liberty and anarchy have danced uneasily around one another, jostling for the upper hand in locations far from America and Britain. The influence of religion for both good and evil has perhaps persuaded Western governments to take the insights of religious communities more seriously. The imbalance between rich and poor has not improved - in fact, it has worsened. Despite the many acts of heroism which it has inspired and from which we draw strength and hope, I don't think 9/11 did very much more than show us, again, that human beings can engage in stupefying acts of evil and that it is very difficult, even among people of good intention, to prevent one evil action from leading to another.

It is appropriate, tomorrow, to remember quietly all those who died on 9/11 and who have died because of 9/11 in the years since and their loved ones; to remember the emergency service personnel who gave their lives to try to save others; to pray for those whose lives were changed for ever on that day by personal loss or by the responsibility to take certain actions required of them by their office or role. It is appropriate to pray for the efforts of all who, anywhere in the world, will sit down and listen and talk to those who are different from themselves or whose world view appears to threaten theirs. And  perhaps the most important thing we can do is  to search for reconciliation in our own lives wherever we can. Broken relationships create the potential for evil; a deeper understanding of those who are not like us and who challenge or even offend us holds open at least the possiblity of opposing evil and finding healing and reconciliation.  

Vivaldi's sacred motet challenges us, 'Can there be peace in the world?'

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