While we attempt to file away the traumatic and terrible images etched in our minds and TV screens by the terrorists who hijacked four airliners, we know that those pictures can't be stuffed far enough away. They will resurface every time a plane flies overhead or we see a skyscraper. Then we will be reminded of that horrific day when it seemed that everything was blowing up in front of our very eyes. Even though we weren't in New York City, Washington, or outside Pittsburgh, we will all experience diminutive forms of post-traumatic stress syndrome for we have experienced hours of viewing and reviewing the death of over five thousand of our fellow Americans.
However, while we attempt to store away the vivid blasts going off in our brain, I for one will recall three additional images. I watched these three stories that ran one after the other a couple of days after that horrific Tuesday morning. The interesting thing was that they were not pictures of firefighters assisting in a rescue or the American flag flying over the rubble. In fact, the three images weren't from America, but Europe. One of the TV networks was reporting on European responses to America's emotional and literal hemorrhaging.
The first report came from Berlin, Germany. There, in front of the Brandenburg Gate and before tens of thousands of Germans, was a black woman singing "Amazing Grace." It hit me emotionally as I watched her singing a hymn written by Isaac Watts-a white man who before seeing the light was a captain of a slave ship that brought human beings to America as slaves. To add to this emotionally laden moment was that she was singing in front of the Brandenburg Gate, once a symbol of the division between East and West Berlin. The majestic gate was also part of the Berlin Wall keeping East Germans in political slavery on the wrong side of the Wall. In addition, the Brandenburg Gate was one of the symbols of Hitler's demented form of slavery earlier in the 20th century. I was nearly overcome with emotions watching that sixty second spot.
Then the venue turned to London where some English young people sang our "National Anthem" as a statement of their solidarity with America in our hour of loss and loneliness. God! But, it got worse. The next TV clip was of a French lady living in Paris who looked old enough to have lived through WWII. She, with tears streaming down her wrinkle cheeks, said in French, "Today, I am an American." Wow!
When tragedy strikes, we often feel isolated and alone. It is then that we reach out to others for comfort and reassurance. However, for us as Americans, all of our support system was also suffering. I was moved by those European expressions of solidarity with us and was comforted immensely by them.
As we attempt to understand this tragedy and to put meaning into meaninglessness, we share the worldview of the existentialists. When we look into the abyss of meaninglessness and dread, it is then that we can discover meaning or at least the ability to go on, in spite of the suffering. While still shaken by those exploding planes and feelings loss and estrangement, I discovered that we weren't alone in this world. There are others out there who share in our national loss. There are major divisions between America and some that hate us. However, blacks and whites can find reconciliation. Germany can emerge from WWII and the Cold War in unity to share their common humanity with us and those who live in England or in France.
This world is often sick and insane. Death stalks the innocent and tragedy taunts us. However, we aren't alone. Last week, when planes falling from the sky shook our world, we also realized that we are not alone. Others throughout the world grieved with us and have expressed their solidarity with our nation in the darkest hour that many have ever experienced. Nonetheless, we are sisters and brothers with each other. Some in the civilized world know it. The problem is that some in distant and secretive societies don't. Let us all pray that divisions and walls between people are removed. This is worth living for, and it gives meaning to the often meaninglessness of life in the 21st century.
This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 9/24/01.