Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Never Forget... What?

I apologize if this feels trite or inappropriate; I hope it won't. But when I see the "nEver Forget" hashtag or bumper stickers it always strikes me as odd. I get uncomfortable and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the ambiguity - what will we forget? No one, certainly, who was old enough to remember the events of September 11, 2001 will ever forget them. It's the Pearl Harbor or JFK Assassination of our generation, perhaps even more vividly, since we watched the whole thing live and in color.

I was a junior at Eastern Nazarene College, sleeping late since one of the privileges of being a junior is not having to get up early for class. I had the largest TV on the floor (and was the RA), so I was awoken to a knock on the door and guys piling into the room saying something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. The way they talked about it, I pictured a little two-seater prop thing and some hopeless, undertrained hobby pilot. We turned the TV on pretty much right when the second plane hit - the guys kept saying, "this must be a replay," but I saw smoke coming from the other tower. Over the next few minutes I just remember silence. I'm sure everything was loud and humming, but it was utterly surreal.

I'm never going to forget that.

I'm not going to forget the kids camped out in the student center lounge, watching coverage practically 24/7 for months, as daytime news covered nothing else. The country was consumed with this event and, in many ways, it still is.

I wonder, when they say, "Never Forget," if they mean teaching the next generation what happened and the lessons learned - because the next generation can never know and thus will be almost certain to forget. Besides that, I'm not sure what lessons we've actually learned or whether they're worth passing on. We've responded to violence largely with violence and helped make the world a more dangerous place than it way. We've polarized the nation and the world and we operate far more often on fear than we ever did before.

Those aren't things I want to remember.

Of course, there are also the victims. People who lost lives doing unimaginably heroic things. People who lost lives making impossible, unimaginable choices about which way to die. People who never had a chance to think. The families of those people, some of whom never even had the smallest bit of remains to mourn and bury. We certainly don't want to forget those people.

One the morning of September 11th this year, ESPN released a documentary short called, "First Pitch." It's twenty minutes or so about President George Bush throwing out the first pitch of Game 3 of the 2001 World Series. I wept. I wept through the whole thing. I didn't expect to get so choked up, but the footage of first responders and scenes of NY and around the country shortly after the attacks brought back a flood of memories - those same emotions none of us could ever forget.

I think part of my emotions were also from that World Series - it was really the last moment I gained any pure joy from baseball. I've written before about my childhood love of the game and my evolving understanding of sports, but this was slightly different. On top of 2001 being among the most exciting and greatest World Series of all time, it came on the heels of the life changing 9/11 attacks. The President throwing out that first pitch in NY (and throwing a strike) imbued it with a little more meaning. Even more so, the narrative was impressive: the storied New York Yankees (my childhood team) working to extend an impressive dynasty against a relatively new team from Arizona comprised of a lot of veteran players who'd never won before. It went all the way to the end of Game 7. My team lost, yet I found myself profoundly happy with the outcome - those guys deserved what they got. They earned it.

There was some measure of cosmic satisfaction in the outcome. Even if it wasn't my team, it was a great story. Prior to that moment I thought I liked baseball because my team was the best. I realized I liked it because it represented something bigger - that cosmic satisfaction is, in some sense, a realization of perfection. When the narrative works out just like it's supposed to, there's something really, deeply satisfying. These days I'd call it a connection to the divine - an inner drive in all of us to see the world as it was meant to be, as it will be one day. In those moments of deep satisfaction, when things just work out the way they're "supposed to," we're catching a glimpse of heaven.

I realized at the end of that 2001 World Series that I didn't need baseball to do that for me. I still enjoy sports for that reason - it's one of the purest ways to find some sense of rightness in the world - but it's also got to be looked at with a cynical eye these days. The reality of steroids hit home right about the same time and baseball has never been the same for me.

I realized, though, fourteen years hence, watching that documentary, I didn't need baseball to carry me through. The emotions that came flooding back, the reality of what happened September 11th, 2001, the reality of living here then was something different, bigger. It was the start of a journey towards recognizing that cosmic satisfaction in things larger and more important than sports. Prior to that time, whether due to upbringing or immaturity, I never expected things to get better. I'd been taught the world was hopelessly lost and doomed - hope was for another time and place.

Since then, I've developed a much fuller understanding of hope, destiny, and humanity. I've discovered a profound hope for this world and the people in it - that those glimpses of heaven don't need to be representative in sports, but can really take place in the world around us. When you see the video of the search teams, combing the wreckage for friends who were not coming back, the hearts and homes opened, the careers dropped at a moment's notice to help others - that's hope for this world; it's the sort of "perfection" I'd always wanted to find in baseball. And it was, is, real in the world around me.

It wasn't ever real in baseball. The beauty and hope came from my love and devotion to the game. Those two months, September and October of 2001, even though I didn't realize it at the time, were the start of a journey that's lead to finding real purpose, real hope in life. The same love and devotion I spent my childhood giving to a game can be and is directed towards hurting people everyday. The human capacity for evil is immense, but the human capacity of love and grace is even bigger - thank God.

As I look back of September 11th, as the day rolls around each year with remembrances and celebrations that don't always sit well with me, I don't have to look back and think of war and violence, I don't need to remember terrorism and the foreign policy mistakes that have been made in its name. I can think of the genuine love that permeated a nation* if only for a short while - it's a love worth never forgetting.

*I don't want to minimize the tragic backlash against muslims and sikhs (who wear turbans and apparently looked like muslims to some ignorant, hateful people) - but at the same time I remember being shocked with how quickly communities turned out to repair broken windows and guard shops and mosques from further damage - things that I doubt would've happened with the same fervor before 9/11, things I can't imagine happening even now.

No comments: