Forgiveness Ten Years After
September 11, 2011
Rev. Wilfredo J. Baez
September 11, 2011
Rev. Wilfredo J. Baez
Do you remember where you were September 11, 2001; ten years ago to this day? I was in Watkins Glenn State Park at a Pastor’s study group. Rev. Grant Nichols took a call on his cell-phone and announced, “A plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers in New York City.” A short while after he took a second call and announced, “We’re under attack. The second Twin Tower has been hit.” Then came the announcements about the Pentagon and the flight over Pennsylvania.
Do you remember your reaction? We didn’t believe Grant. For a moment we thought he was joking. But quickly we realized that Grant wouldn’t joke about something like this. We made our way back down the hill to our respective communities and plotted what steps we would take next as we glued our eyes and ears to the media to follow the proceedings. That was Tuesday. From that day on for the next few weeks we kept our churches open day and night for people to come and pray. That Friday night we held a county-wide prayer service in Watkins Glen, the county seat. Seven of us took turns preaching. As I was the President of the County Council of Churches I got to speak last. I looked out at the people who had filled the Watkins Glen United Methodist Church. They sat there in stunned silence frozen in shock. They could not name their feelings. But I felt everyone: fear, hurt, anger; panic, terror, rage. Their feelings rose up in me in their totality. There was a desire for understanding, justice, and retribution, but from what and from whom? Twenty minutes later, trembling, unable to stand a moment more, I lowered myself into my seat. Two days later I was at the hospital. The adrenaline that had carried me those last five days had drained me of all my strength.
As a country we sought answers; we sought vengeance. We wanted to teach our aggressors a lesson, “never again, never!” We lived in fear that it could happen again. In fact, we saw terror lurking in every shadow and sought to destroy it. If you happened to be Muslim or Arab, or Indian or dark haired and dark skinned, you were suspect. We followed the tried strategy of the best defense is a good offense which took us into Afghanistan and Iraq.
Here we are, ten years after? As a country, we barely had enough resources to lash out at Khadafy when he became vulnerable. We had been carrying our desire for retribution against him since the Pan Am bombing. We’re hurting economically at home, probably as the result of our rebuilding and national security efforts following the 911 attacks, and our efforts overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our desire for blood quenched for large part by capturing Sadam Hussein and killing Osama Ben Laden.
While we must remember what happened 9/11/2001, it is time for us to heal. We’re safe enough now to forgive. Otherwise we will continue to burn inside in anger, hatred and fear. Otherwise we will continue to act our anger, hatred, and fear out, not against an outer enemy, but against ourselves and each other like we have these past few years; American mistrusting American, treating each other, even our President as a foreigner, an alien, even an enemy and a terrorist. If we carry that anger, hatred and fear inside of us, we need someone, or something, to lash out against. We need a bogeyman. But our fellow Americans, Christian, Muslim or Secular are not our enemy. It is our lingering anger, hatred and fear that sears our flesh and spirit, and destroys us body and soul.
Going forward, we cannot rely upon our wealth and might to see us through. That is not what saw us through those dreadful days, weeks, and months following the events of September 11, 2011. It was the power of God and the love of God that prevailed in those dark days. It was people looking to God and to one another for help and for solace. Yes, there was our resiliency, but it was the grace of God in the midst of hellfire that led us through. We, as Americans, had been through a lot, even on our own soil, against Great Britain and against each other, Pearl Harbor, and the Oklahoma City Bombing, but nothing like this. And we rose above it, before we ever went to war against Afghanistan and Iraq.
And now it is time to let go and let God. It is a time to sing a song of praise to God and love of God, and love for ourselves and for our neighbors, even our seeming enemies. It is hard to forgive but it is cleansing and it is healing. We don’t need our anger, hate and fear to make us strong and make us feel safe anymore. We have what we need within ourselves and among ourselves.
Some years ago, I was studying, as a Christian, with a Muslim man of God. His name was Pir Valiyat Khan. He was a rather kind and gentle man who believed, like most Muslim Sufis do, in the underlying mystical union of all religions. He had a great respect, even love for Jesus. He saw Jesus has having attained to unity with God.
Pir Valiat, a brilliant man, had a heart of gold. His heart energy was vast like an ocean. When in his presence you could not help but be caught up in a tide of love and washed away into that ocean. However, in the midst of that ocean of love that characterized his consciousness was an island, active volcanic, steaming with anger, hate, and desire for vengeance. He knew that it shouldn’t be there, but he couldn’t help himself. You see, Pir and his sister were citizens of France during WWII. His sister, like he, was a pacifist. But she wanted to serve her country against the German occupation. She joined up with the French Underground Resistance as a code breaker. As the war waned and neared its end she was captured by the Germans. Just after Germany surrendered, German SS beat her to the point of death, and just as she figured to die, shot her in the head. The image of her execution haunted Pir, probably to her death.
I didn’t have contact with Pir Viliyat after that day, but on my way back from my time with him I prayed that he would forgive the Nazis the way Jesus forgave his executioners and the way God has forgiven us.
Not all of us have turned to Jesus with our fear, pain, anger and hate, but for own good, for our own family, for our own nation and people, even for those who have died, we have to. Peter turned to Jesus when he was having trouble forgiving someone. He knew that forgiving his tormentor was the right thing to do. In fact, he knew that it was right to forgive seven times. Jesus responded, “not seven, but seventy-seven times.”
What Jesus told Peter was that the standard for human forgiveness is infinite. It’s God’s forgiveness. And really, if you don’t forgive others, like God forgives others, you’re only hurting yourself, those close to you, and the people around. You are burning with hurt and fear and anger and hate and burning the world around it, rather than building and rebuilding your life and the world you live in after the model God has given you.
So open your hearts, open your minds, open your doors of perception to the new life of the reign of God and God’s love and peace and justice. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.