The bad news first: no one is in control anymore; everyone is winging it. They will not admit it, but it is true. No one is on top of this situation. Everyone is running scared. This applies to all three branches of our federal government, intelligence, the military, strategic planning at State, health departments from top (CDC) down and the economy. The good news is that now we can realize that none of these were really "in control" anyway. They, and we, only thought we were. We were blind, and participated in our own blinding. It was a grand illusion born of being the last superpower on earth, with our vaunted technology and economic resources, and the tendency to live in our little enclaves. The good news is also we are being forced to live as do very many others, with insecurity and some fear. I propose that is good news for the thinking person called to live in faith and in solidarity with others.
What September 11th and its continuing aftermath of violence and terror bring home is our radical incompleteness as humans. We humans are born not to be complete by ourselves, in many ways. We have a long period of dependency, for love and learning, support and development. We are born into mystery of all kinds: our parents love, siblings and others, relatives, nature, disappointment, teachers, school, and acceptance and rejection by others. We find ways to assure ourselves of some worth in this world, although it remains precarious, depending on love, achievement, success and value by others. Yet, for all our multiple strivings, our personal security can always be lost, and sometimes, from least expected sources.
We have a still more radical incompleteness as humans. We are keenly aware of our human paradox: we feel agonizingly special, yet we know that in the end it doesn't matter. Our bodies perish. We soar to speculate about the infinite and divine, yet we, or our bodies, shall rot. Mute trees and dumb mountains survive us. We have emerged from nothing, have a name and precious identity, are conscious of intense yearnings for life and deep feelings, are capable of self expression and self-definition, yet we age, decay, die and disappear forever. We know once more since September 11 that the veil that separates these worlds is thin indeed and unexpectedly fragile. We know once more how frail is our personal security, that nothing is for sure.
We want our lives to count for something. We yearn for meaning, for some sense of transcendence. Yet are we not, in truth, doomed to live in a chaotic, fluky world where life can be easily snatched by some freak accident, and now also, by a terrorist we have never met. What kind of deity would create such complex and fancy food for worms? Cynical deities, said the Greeks, who used man's torments for their amusement. It seems like a terrifying hoax, which is why some openly rebel against the idea of God. Robert Frost once prayed, "Lord, if you will forgive all the little jokes I've played on you, I'll forgive the great big joke you have played on me."
Most prefer not to think about it. We find all sorts of ways to dim the reality of our human condition and to dull our awareness of our mortality. We drink and drug ourselves, make eating or collecting something an obsession, spend time shopping, looking for entertainment or adventure. We can "find ourselves" in the stock market, the success ladder of a company, or competition in the university, success symbols or sometimes simply hiding at work if the office is large enough. We can even use religion to comfort us and to feel superior to others. We often armor ourselves from discomfort by drawing boundaries between us and "them,"-- those many others who are not as whatever as we presume ourselves to be. We choose to live protected from insecurity and fear as far as we are able.
Could it be that the first lesson for us from September 11 and its aftermath, is the hard news that in some basic sense we truly are "orphans in a fluky world," that our lives are out of control, as the first step of AA asks us to admit? No, we may not be alcoholics, but we all have our private addictions, even if some of these are positive. Yet, no matter how deliberate our planning, how big is our Army, how superior our technology, or how surely ensconced in some way of life, none of us are really, ultimately in control of our lives. We are all winging it, truth be known. We simply cannot guarantee ourselves or our future anything. Is this an appropriate realization to take from September 11th, that is, the recognition that we can have no lasting security in life about anything? Nothing is for sure.
Now we are being asked to live as do millions in our urban ghettos and the world ghettos: They do not know if their child will be shot or brutalized on the way home. We have only two choices as do the millions of poor in the world: We live in fear or we can live through it. Two choices. For a group of people who have been wrapped in themselves and everything possible, often paying little attention to what their government does or what happens to others in the world, is this not a good thing, even if it is a scary price to pay for it?
Is this an awakening for a people who have thought that their own society had it all, that they were the top of the world, the epitome of success in life? Now, suddenly, we are coming to terms slowly with the idea that there is no security to be had, anywhere for long. Maybe now some of us can begin to understand how the 30 million in this country who live below the poverty level and cannot make ends meet feel every day. I happen to believe that what is happening is a major cultural shift, whose vast consequences none can see. Some, for example, feel that the tons of bombs dropped have not added one ounce to our security. We may have thereby fertilized the seedbed of a future generation of terrorists, more eager to commit suicide for their God. Some, and we now have no idea how many, are full of holy zeal for the triumph of a religion believed to succeed both Israel, Christianity and the West. No one is sure that the bombing is bringing us closer to any resolution.
Now we have discovered that the universe has its own agenda. So what is our response? Certainly a new examination of our assumptions about life, about ourselves, about our relationships, about our country and about the world that has changed, is indicated. September 11th is for me a reminder to me of my radical dependence on this Mystery we call God. When I can remain really open to this awareness, I am called out of myself into deeper and wider realities, back to where I should have been all along, into Relational Aliveness, justice and compassion.
Do we feel more inclined to civility, to give and receive small considerations? Are we not more aware of the little things of life: a baby's smile, a flower, a hug in greeting or leaving, a desire to express our love, remembering to acknowledge the value of our friendships, wanting to cooperate with a work partner? Are we not more willing to take a deep breath, step back and be reflective rather than reactive? Is not life itself and each of our relationships more precious?
Divine Mystery, in whom we live, and move and have our being, help me, help us, not to live for ourselves alone. Open our hearts to our brothers and sisters everywhere.