September 10, 2011

Good, evil and 9/11—the view from near NYC.

I‘ve worked in New York City for much of the past 20 years, and lived there during the 90’s.

On September 11, 2001, I had been out of the city for about a year, so I saw the events unfold second-hand, on TV. But I can still remember how I felt that day. The whole thing felt personal, as if a close family member had been brutalized.

I didn’t know anyone who died that day, but a good friend, Jim Wardle, was working on the 72nd floor of the North Tower at the World Trade Center. After the first plane hit, 18 floors above where Jim sat, everyone sat there wondering what to do next. Jim’s intuition told him to split—and after advising his co-workers to do the same, he was standing a few blocks away when the first tower fell.

At the time I was writing for a local monthly publication called Our Town, and I wrote the article that follows for the October, 2001 issue. I’m pretty sure I wrote it in the days following the attack, as I recall the deadline each month was the 15th. I just read it again, for the first time in a decade, and was surprised to find the words still ring true.


A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.  ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

 There is great good and great evil in this world and sometimes they brush up closely to one another. We were witness to this during and after the events of September 11, 2001, when the most unspeakable evil was followed by countless acts of bravery, community, compassion and generosity.

 For those of us who had lived and worked in New York City, the loss felt deeply, sadly personal. While flag-waving crowds cried out for retribution in some parts of the country, our first reaction was not one of anger, but of shock and sorrow, and the heavy-hearted feeling of loss.

 It is during times like this that we may question where God was, how a loving God could allow this to happen. I have read days of newspaper editorials and sermon excerpts to try and find an answer that rang true and have ultimately looked for guidance within.

 I believe there is a balance of good and evil in the world and we are blessed to live in a society and country that for the most part is good. When the sale abruptly tilts and evil slithers into out lives it catches us off guard. When it is of such a monstrous scale that it impacts and even destroys the lives of our friends, neighbors and countrymen, it knocks us senseless. It is almost beyond our comprehension.

 Yet, we have been graced with the inner strength and will to dissipate this evil. We do this by simply doing good, by helping the injured of both body and spirit to recover. By fighting this gross inhumanity with compassion and care for those around us, because even those who witnessed this horrid event from a television set have been scarred in a real, if invisible way.

 From this point on, we all must continue to do our part to bring good to those within our reach, not just during this tragedy, but day in and day out throughout the year. This may mean leaving the vast gray middle ground that lies between good and evil, the place where many of us reside.

 It means not showing up for life, but participating in it with simple acts of love for our family and friends, acts of kindness for our neighbors, acquaintances and co-workers. It means looking into our hearts for the good that God gave us and taking it from its inner dwelling and bringing it out into the light.

 Yes, the world forever changed on that day. But we possess the courage and ability to change with it, to become the polar opposite of the evil we abhor. It is surely what God expects of us; it is what we should expect of ourselves.

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