September 11 -- the 15th Anniversary

A recollection of the message that came to me during Meeting for Worship today which moved me to rise and speak this morning:

I bring tidings of peace from Rockland Friends Meeting in Blauvelt, New York – just 40 minutes north of Manhattan and on the other side of the Hudson, across the Tappan Zee Bridge.  I’m here in Shrewsbury Friends Meeting because I’m on my way home back to Bergen County after celebrating my cousin’s wedding in Freehold.

The Spirit moved me in such a profound way in the past 24 hours to the point that it pulled on my heartstrings – in complete joy and in sadness – to the point that tears filled my eyes.  About 22 hours ago, my big Filipino family was gathered at a church to witness one of my younger cousins marry her best friend whom we’ve all gotten to know over the past five years.  The memory that is forever engrained from the Mass was during the procession when I snapped a picture of my uncle escorting his daughter (my cousin) down the aisle and there was a whole cackle of aunties beaming with pride and joy as evidenced by the big smiles on their faces.  About 15 hours ago, at the evening reception, the memory of my cousins’ toddlers busting out moves on the dance floor is also another memory that will stay with me forever: my cousins formed a circle and we laughed and snapped photos of just how adorable these four 3-4-year-olds were so full of life and how much happiness they have brought to our large extended family.  My heart was brimming with joy just being with all my relatives -- some traveling as far north as Rochester and as far west as Chicago, and as far south as Washington. 

Just about an hour ago, as I was sitting at breakfast in the hotel restaurant, the televisions at the bar area were tuned to the reading of the names of the September 11 victims.  The reading had begun almost an hour ago by that point and they were already reading the names of the victims whose last name began with a “C”.  I noticed that there were a string of 10 victims who perished that day and were the age that I am – in their 30s.  All of a sudden, my heart plummeted and I was actually struggling to hold back tears thinking of that – of my life being unexpectedly ceased at this age.  And just like that, the lives of almost 2,000 innocent people in New York, Washington, and Shanksville were ended on that day….

(At this point of the message, I find myself taking a more pregnant pause as I try to collect myself and try not to cry in front of strangers in this Meetinghouse.  My voice is quivering.)

… I can only imagine the horror and desperation of the people on the airplanes and the people in the impact zones of the Twin Towers and Pentagon…

(I almost break down into a sob at this point.)

…But, as a Quaker, I know I stand here to honor the lives of our fellow humans who unexpectedly died that day from an act of senseless violence… of terrorism.  I’m sure we all remember where we were on that day.  As I stand here and can see through the windows, there is a blue sky today just like there was in New York and Washington 15 years ago.  I remember I was a sophomore at Haverford College when 9/11 happened.  Given that it is a Quaker college, the entire community was invited to Meeting for Worship in the Field House that afternoon.  As soon as the students, faculty, and staff settled into silence in the bleachers and on the floor of the arena, the president of the College stood up, said a few words, and officially opened Meeting.  I vividly remember a fellow student standing up – moved to speak – and shared with the 800 people gathered how she was frustrated, upset, and frightened since she was not able to connect with one of her parents in New York.  She was crying as she expressed this fear.  However, it was at that moment that I could feel the spirit of trust, concern, and respect of the Haverford community surround her, embrace her, and carry her through at that moment.  

I’m sure you will join me and other Friends around the country in holding the victims and their survivors in the Light on this the 15th anniversary.  I also ask you to hold in the Light my cousin and her husband as they embark on married life together; may the Spirit of love and peace imbue their relationship for as long as they live.  And, I also ask you to hold me in the Light as I sit and take my last standardized test this coming Saturday.  It marks the end of a long journey in discerning the next steps in my life, the beginning of what I hope will be an exciting, new chapter of my life.  

May we, as Quakers, always be witnesses of our faith in striving for a world of peace in which every individual’s potential is realized and where we can recognize ‘that of God in everyone.’ May we also continue to stand tall for social justice, especially for those marginalized members of our society whose voices are not being heard.”

When I sat back down, a few moments later, this song entered my mind and I found it staying with me throughout the day: “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.  With every breath I take, let this be my solemn vow: To take each moment and live each moment in peace eternally, let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.”  

Queries for reflection:

1- In what ways has the world changed since that fateful day in U.S. history?

2- In what ways have I changed since that fateful day?

3- What can I do to make the world a better place --starting with my family, circle of friends, and among my colleagues-- so that something like 9/11 never happens again?

4- How do I go beyond tolerating others and fully embracing every person for what he or she brings and contributes to society?

5- How can I let my life speak -- for peace?

Submitted by Eric Jiménez, RFM Member.