“So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”
I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the horrible news broke that a plane had intentionally crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I’m sure you remember where you were and what you were doing, too.
I was substitute teaching at the school that three of our sons attended at the time. Algebra 2, believe it or not. I remember it like I remember hearing, while on the road to Nashville to see my dad for one last goodbye, that he died. Like I remember my then-fiancé’s phone call the day after Christmas to tell me he didn’t have mono; he had cancer. Or like I remember the call 15 years later telling me he’d had a heart attack and the mad scramble to get our children, who were 2, 4, 7, and 9, cared for so I could rush to the ER to be with him. The point is I remember it in a deeply personal way.
On September 11, my first thought was, “Where are my boys? How are they hearing this?” followed by, “Where is Bill?” Followed by, when we heard that a plane had also crashed into the west side of the Pentagon, “Is Lamar okay?” I thought of the only human being I knew who was close to the tragic facts as they unfolded, and I wanted to make sure he, our dear friend, was okay. (He was.)
I imagine you are like me. If you were the age to do so, you thought of your people. You had an urge to find them, to hold them, to—unrealistically of course—protect them.
There’s something about that day and the other memorable ones like it I wish I could hang onto. Of course, I don’t wish for a repeat of the trauma. I am tired of trauma. Lately, I am tired of its assaults on me personally. And I am tired of the assaults on “my people,” meaning the people I love and who love me. We are weary. Like you, some of my people are living in the very center of death, illness, and many other varieties of loss. I also know people whose homelands are experiencing 9/11-size trauma right now. Eritreans. Ethiopians. Congolese. Afghans. Every fiber of my being wants the barrage of bad news to end for them and for me.
But there is something that happens in trauma that I long to preserve. I want to normalize the experience of that crystallizing moment when I look for my people. When my most pressing urge is to hold them. To protect them. I believe the world would be a different place if we—all of us—could take that moment and make it our daily practice. Could we move the part of us that loves first to the forefront and keep it there? Could we love that fiercely? That urgently? And to whom does that extend?
Today I simply echo the ancient words of the Apostle Paul and affirm them as perhaps the most difficult and necessary ever written:
“Follow the way of love.”
The way of love, I believe, pushes me to widen my definition of “my people.” Back in 2001, I was a young mom, and I had the laser-focus of a young mom. But my vision was obscured by a kind of privilege I’ve since learned made me un-whole. That privilege took my basic instinct to search and protect, to nurture and hold, and hoarded it. It also created a subtle us vs. them equation that made “others” the enemy of “my people.”
Not that the longing to protect the ones you love is wrong. It is simply incomplete, and it makes us better lovers of the world when we make room for others when defining “our people.” When the rampage of ISIS became globally known, my people included many families who fled Syria. I saw firsthand the way they were excluded from the safe “my people” zone in most people’s minds simply because they were Muslim or Arab. I remember texting Ahmad on the morning of the Paris bombings with that same instinctive desire I’d had on 9/11 to make sure he was okay. He had become “my people.”
The sum of “our people” is simply too large for any of us (I’ll be sharing more on this next week), which means for the way of love to prevail, we’re all required to take up the mantle. Not to mother the world (heaven forbid!), but to check up on our people. To care. And to re-evaluate if that circle of care is too small or too homogenous. To act when necessary.
So, you see the predicament 9/11 puts us in if we are to follow the way of love. It is a predicament we gladly embrace, with all its tensions and challenges and questions and sorrows. It stretches our definitions, and in turn, stretches us. And the beautiful part of a stretching created by love is that it actually increases our capacity. I think you’d agree that the way of love is worth the perplexity it creates in its wake.
Grateful to be on this way with you,