Rev. Jim Ryan, PhD — firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-pastor of Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles Community
Wauwatosa, Wisconsin 53213
On Friday we kept the Memorial of September 11th. The day continues to stand as the national tragic encounter with the depths to which hatred, violence, and extreme polarization will go in the living of human-to-human relations/separations. The September 11th motto, “We Will Never Forget” surfaced again on Friday. Not as a go-to-war chant of revenge but as a plea from an ongoing, mournful litany, it asks the question, “What is it that we will never forget?”
Will we never forget the loss, the grief, the mourning?
Will we never forget the shock, the disbelief, the other-world feel of it all?
Will we never forget the first-responders, the help from strangers, the caregivers who showed up from within the clouds of ash?
Will we never forget the revulsion, the madness, the apocalyptic feel of it?
Will we never forget the world-changing reality, the end of a way of life, the end of security?
Will we never forget our sense of solidarity, our common response, our being in it together?
“We will never forget” reminds us of both the event itself and its aftermath. We acknowledge that our individual and national psyche runs deep with a permanently fixed/situated belief about humanity. For we who are old enough to have experienced and remember where we were on September 11 this is a forever event. As we eventually pass on only then will this live memory become what historians will remember and perpetuate. As for us, we will never forget.
Jean and I joined those who went to Ground Zero to witness the Hole. In our future visits returning to that massive crater in lower Manhattan and stopping in at St. Paul’s Chapel became part of our schedule when visiting the City – joining the “must-do” list of visiting St. Patrick’s Cathedral, seeing the Today Show at 30 Rock, taking in a Broadway Play, and eating at “Un, Deux, Trois Café.” We will never forget.
We will never forget the denial that the tragedy afflicted us with. “Surely,” we told each other, “this could not be happening.” And then we saw that destruction and devastation, that killing field, with our own eyes – and only then after most of the debris and human remains had mercifully been removed. “Surely,” we said, “people wouldn’t jump from those buildings?” not realizing that in the devastation and atmosphere that out-of-control fires create anything is likely to happen. “Surely,” we said, “people experienced a terror that no one should experience” having no reality to compare it with.
We will never forget the sense of unity and connection at that time – yes, as Americans but also as the world. Citizens of many nations died and were lost to their families and loved ones too. Remember our unity then? We thought we would never forget that either. We thought we would change the world of dispossessing and dehumanizing the other, especially the poor and the alien. We were members of a people who shared in a common, tragic experience – a world-shattering, life-altering thing. This membership, so we thought would continue and keep us bonded well into the future, maybe forever – so we thought. Membership is consolation.
During this covid time one of my boredom fighting activities has been to re-read my collection of Wendell Berry books, starting with the novels. As you may know, Berry writes of a semi-fictional place called Port William, loosely based on his own home town of Port Royal, Kentucky.
In the tradition of William Faulkner’s fictionalized version of Lafayette County, Mississippi (Oxford, its county seat) and Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” (Grover’s Corners), Berry allows us literary entry to Port William where there exists not a citizenry but a membership – The Membership of Port William.
One novel builds upon another such that one gets to know the folks – farmers, townspeople, those who do skilled trades and travelling sales. Besides being closely related – cousins marrying cousins, families marrying into families – there is also Hannah Coulter. She is the World War II widow of a fallen soldier, Virgil Catlett, who married Nathan Coulter, a returnee from that same war who lost his brother, Tom, in the European Theatre (terrible misuse of the word) of Operations.
This membership was settled in and around Port William. Of them Berry writes, “Members of Port William aren’t trying to ‘get someplace.’ They think they are someplace.” To speak of such a membership as a unity or even as a community belies the fundamental thing about them in that they are. No amount of production, economy, socializing, even praying and befriending defines the simplicity and the depth of being who they are together.
I think a lot about the being of the Membership of Port William these days and of all the positive and supportive features of their admittedly fictional life together. Then I think of the separation, alienation, and division we in the not-so-fictional United States of America are experiencing today.
“We will never forget” so let’s RE-member. How we need and require putting the pieces together again. Fixing this Membership which is the remembered unity of September 11th. How we need and require national leaders who do not image this country in their own self-image. How we need and require each other to act upon the reality that we are someplace – even if that someplace is an ideal.
A Prayer (JR)
Praise to you, loving Creator, for the blessing of freedom.
Praise to you, Holy Wisdom, for the gifts to sustain this freedom.
All Praise be to you, the Beloved One, who has shown by life, death,
and resurrection that freedom without struggle is an empty blessing.
As you call us to celebrate these Mysteries, may we listen in freedom
to your divine silence that fills our life today and forever. Amen.