Here’s the text of a reflection I gave this afternoon at the 9/11 Remembrance service, sponsored by the United States Consulate General in Amsterdam (see a wee notice and photo on their website, here):
Eight years ago we gathered in this place, bewildered, fearful, anguished, angry, with little comfort or solace. Hastily we gathered, people of all faiths and none – the news spreading by word of mouth – coming until every place was taken, knowing we needed to be here, our hands joined together as one even as we stood with weak knees and aching hearts.
On that day, if I remember correctly, Reverend Cowie, our host then as now, reminded us that it is not always ours to choose what overcomes us in life; but it is ours to choose how we will respond to what happens to us.
So, what have we done? How have the intervening years shown up our response to the tragic events of that day? Did our grief, our anger, our injury work to make us better? Is our quality more noble, or ignoble, for what has overcome us?
We are perhaps neither qualified nor inclined, certainly on this day, to dwell on global politics, on how our governments have acted. We must leave it to others, and to history, to judge whether their actions have been fitting and just. If there have been failures we can rest in the knowledge that our democracies are tenaciously self-correcting. As Martin Luther King Jr. once noted, the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.
But how have we responded – each of us as individuals? 9/11 changed us, we know that. Eight years on and we have begun to harvest from the seeds that were sown into our own hearts on that day. We have begun to see the fruit born of the way we chose to respond. Have we nourished bitterness by stoking the fires of prejudice and intolerance? Or have we sought to respond in the opposite spirit, bringing whatever influence we have been given to contribute to a more just and peaceable world? We must in any case not loose heart, not give up, believing the false notion that our efforts are pointless. The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.
We are here today, first and foremost, to remember those who died in the skies above America, and soon after in New York, in Washington, and in Shanksville. Thousands lost their lives, and many more thousands their loved ones, at the hands of hateful men. That there are those who should view their fellow men as mere objects, to destroy as they will, is a vile and perverse thing; it is opprobrious beyond description to do so in the name of the Creator, who created all men equal and endowed each with the right to life and liberty.
We have lost them, but we shall not forget them. No one has died in vain whose dying has ultimately made our world a better place. It rests on those of us who remain to secure and tend this noble legacy.
Blessed are the poor in spirit….blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…blessed are the merciful…blessed are the pure in heart…blessed are the peacemakers…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.
Bless us, O Lord, and as we remember those who died and those who mourn; and renew in us the resolve to walk in ways that are just, worthy and upright of heart. Amen.