Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Shape of Evil

Ever since September 11, 2001, the shape of evil for me has been those billowing clouds of pulverized concrete, metal, paper, carpet, asbestos, glass, and, God help us, human beings that whipped through the streets of lower Manhattan on a sunny and beautiful Tuesday morning. Every year, I make myself watch news footage from that date. I listen to music like Alan Jackson's Where Were You and Mozart's Requiem and cry and have skin-crawling flashbacks to the panic and sadness of that day.

I do those things because I'm trying to impose meaning, control, and reason onto a situation that is inherently nihilistic, uncontrolled, and unreasoning. Of course, the monsters who murdered almost 3,000 people in cold blood and those that financed them, and those that trained and supported them, and even those who, in their secret heart of hearts, sympathized with them, had their excuses and their rationalizations and their "reasons". It has been fashionable, since the very day when ordinary people living their ordinary lives were so brutally ripped from this world, for some of us in this country and around the world to try to "understand" the "roots of terrorism". For pete's sake, there are some who assert that these privileged sons of doctors, these engineers, and computer programmers, acted as they did because Christian nations 800 to 1000 years ago waged war to recapture cities in the Holy Land that had been conquered by Islamic armies. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Does that mean that we here in the West should wage war against Turkey to retake Constantinople (now called Istanbul)? That we should murder innocent men, women, and children to "avenge the insult" of Sultan Mehmed II's conversion of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque --an "insult" that continued from 1453 until 1934 when the Hagia Sophia was secularized and turned into a museum? Should we murder innocent Muslim men at work because Christians cannot freely and openly worship in Saudi Arabia or because they are forbidden to enter Mecca or Medina? Should we riot because Christian converts from Islam must sometimes fear for their lives? Should we defend the principle of free speech and free expression by killing innocent Muslims because these principles are threatened by Islamic radicals who want to kill people and destroy things over movies, cartoons, or books? Should we defend equality between the sexes by bombing Riyadh? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Look, it's pretty simple. There is a perverse beauty in destruction. This struck me today as I watched footage of September 11. The images of the World Trade Center debris rolling through the canyons of Manhattan filled me with horror and fascination and a disquieting recognition that they were substantial. They looked alive. They looked hungry. They looked purposeful. And they were, as evil always is. Those privileged sons of doctors, those engineers and computer programmers, were in love with evil, in love with destruction, with desecration, with despair. Somehow, somewhere along the line, the Deceiver had convinced them that the way to Paradise was through the blood of innocents and that the power they would gain for their "cause" by the murder of innocents was more important than anything else.

They were deceived.

And I know they were deceived for a reason that might seem mundane to some. You see, I have another reason to remember September 11. It is the day that my second child was born, at four minutes after midnight. When I realized I was in labor on the evening of the 10th, two days in advance of my scheduled c-section and two weeks prior to my due date, I prayed that she would be delivered before the clock rolled over to 9-11. I didn't want to cry every year on my daughter's birthday. I didn't want that joyful day tainted with memories of evil. But God was trying to teach me something as I prayed the Hail Mary throughout the excruciatingly slow procedure, as I begged the Virgin to intercede and make Dr. T's fingers move a bit faster, to make him stop talking to the medical student he was training as my child was coming into this world.

It's taken me four years -- of crying on Chickadee #2's birthday, of feeling that something is not quite right about this day -- to get it. It's also simple, and it's this:

Perfect love
drives out all fear. (I John 4:18).

What happened on September 11 in New York, and Washington, and over the bucolic fields of Western Pennsylvania, proves that. People hurtling to their deaths or trapped above the fire line did not call their wives and mothers and sons and brothers and fathers and friends to express hatred, or anger, or division. They called to express love, concern, caring. The firemen and policemen and Port Authority employees and Emergency Responders didn't run into burning buildings out of fear and hatred, but because of love -- altruistic love -- the hardest kind of love to have because it is untainted with selfishness. People did not take to the streets and riot and call for the heads of their Muslim neighbors and friends on pikes. No one was tarred and feathered. In fact, in the weeks following the attacks, I distinctly remember my roommate and I talking about a family of Muslims who owned a convenience store just outside of our town. While neither of us was in the habit of stopping at that store, both of us independently had decided to start doing so, to make sure that we looked those people in the eye and smiled at them. So they wouldn't be afraid, so they wouldn't feel isolated or singled out.

When I look into my daughter's beautiful face, when I see her smile in delight at the
magnificent fairy cake her aunt created for her, when I hear her belt out tunes in her Ethel
Merman voice, when I receive her sticky sweet kisses and watch her eyelids fluttering as she strives to stay awake on this magical day for just one more minute, I no longer see the shape of evil, but the shape of love.

And I thank God that Dr. T's fingers were just a little slow.