Driving Hwy. 41 while the sun is still rising, trying to keep my focus on the road instead of the pink-tinged clouds layered on the canvas of a robin's-egg-blue sky and the sharp contrast of the dark trees just beginning to turn orange, red, and yellow. Early Fall and early morning—two of my favorite times.
This will be one of those revelatory days—not in a biblical sense but in a literal sense of showing and telling what might otherwise go unrevealed. The sort of day when you know you have an extra sense meant for translating beauty out of experience. Because, God knows, experience is not always at first glance a beautiful thing.
And as if on cue I pass a newly posted sign along the roadway demanding, incongruously, "No Mosque at Ground Zero." Ground Zero—that site where we have concentrated our national shock at what the 21st century is. A national and international tragedy, hallowed ground to many, and, for too many, now the burial ground of their better selves and their national conscience.
Hate breeds hate, unless we starve the new growth.
I remember September 11, 2001 very well, but not nearly with the same searing memories as friends of mine who barely escaped the burning buildings or who lost family members and neighbors.
I lived in one of the nearby New Jersey towns effected directly by the attack. Children in our town left school that day in the midst of a tense, hushed and hurried need to get home and hear what was happening next. My daughter's first grade teacher carried on with her class, keeping the children busy and unaware while she waited to hear if her own daughter had made it out of lower Manhattan safely. Some children were picked up by family members who would be tasked with telling them a parent was dead. School administrators were scrambling to be certain every child would in fact have a parent to pick them up...no one knew for days with certainty who survived and who didn't. The smoke from the burning buildings, burning for days and days, was visible from the higher elevations of town.
As horrifying as all that was, one other memory survives in stark contrast to the burgeoning clouds of dust and smoke from the collapsed and burning buildings—the incongruously gorgeous, warm September morning complete with a clear, robin's-egg-blue sky that we all were enjoying just moments before the first plane hit.
It was the sort of early Fall morning that makes even a city as crowded and dirty as New York seem beautiful, seem as if it was the perfect expression of all that is right with humanity. I looked out over the distant skyline after driving my daughter to school thinking what a wonderful day for a trip to the city (I had an appointment with a client scheduled for later that morning). An appointment I never kept...my client would be walking out of Manhattan within hours along with so many other people stranded, not because they were near "Ground Zero," but because all traffic in and out of the city was stopped. An eerie, mass pilgrimage of business people took place on foot that day from Manhattan over the bridges to the other boroughs.
We all hang onto what we value any way we can. I understand that and don't blame anyone for feeling fear in the 21st century. But I think we need to really consider what we value and how we hang onto it.
I wonder if my neighbors who posted their anger on that Hwy 41 sign understand that the planned community center and mosque they don't want to see built two blocks away is intended as a bridge of mutual understanding not as a provocation. In fact, originally it was simply intended to be a nice addition to a diverse and bustling neighborhood where traveling from one block to another can be as revelatory as traveling from one country to another...something it is easy to lose sight of when living in this rural and sparsely populated place.
It is an attempt to translate something beautiful out of the horror of our complicated shared experiences. And from where I stand today, on another perfect September morning, I am blessed to be able to enjoy sunlit blue skies--miraculously clear of contrails--and to claim this time as clear of any darker horizons.