Thursday, September 11, 2014


I'm sitting at my computer, waiting for a repairman and trying to get my mind into work mode.  In the background, I am listening to relatives of those lost on 9/11 in New York read the list of names of those murdered by members of an Islamic death cult.  Every year, I listen to the names and feel such empathy for the relatives standing there, naming strangers in alphabetical order.  All the while, they know that, at the end of their portion of the list, they will have to acknowledge in speech the gaping hole that was torn in their lives by people who looked at their precious loved one as just part of a hated group.

This reading of names, this insistence on the particularity of each person who was murdered, is the kernel of my philosophy.  People are not groups.  They aren't "liberals" or "conservatives" or "men" or "women" or "black" or "white" or "Christian" or "Hindu" or "Muslim" or "American" or "alien" or "the 99 percent" or "the 1 percent".  Those are labels that the political cynics and the race baiters and the haters use to divide people from one another in order to accrue power, prestige, and wealth to themselves.  It's time that we stop playing into this tactic.

The news from this past summer has been unrelentingly bad, both internationally and domestically.  In April, 276 Christian schoolgirls were kidnapped in Nigeria, presumably to be sold into slavery or kept as sexual chattel by a branch of the Islamic death cult, Boko Haram.  Another branch of the Islamic death cult, the Islamic State (ISIS) spent the summer cutting a swath of destruction through northern Iraq, beheading soldiers and sticking their heads on spikes, raping women and children, cutting the heads off little Christian boys and girls, driving people from cities and villages that had had a Christian presence for 1,700 years, murdering, raping, and displacing members of the Yazidi ethnic and religious minority, driving them to utter ruin,starvation, and dehydration on Mt. Sinjar in Northern Iraq.  I defy anyone to watch the YouTube video of Vian Dakhil, the Yazidi representative to the Iraqi Parliament, beg for help without weeping.  Meanwhile, it was revealed that gangs of men in Rotherham, England had spent the past fifteen years raping and prostituting English girls without being hindered in any way by police and social service authorities who, while aware of what was going on, were reluctant to intervene because the perpetrators were Asian (i.e. Pakistani) Muslims and the victims were white Christian English girls.  Instead of addressing the crimes being committed, they sent social workers off to "diversity training" and threatened them with firing if they ever again referred to the criminals as "Asian" (i.e., Pakistani Muslim).

On the home front, we spent weeks watching riots in Ferguson, Missouri over a racially-tinged fatal shooting of a black man who may, or may not, have been threatening a white police officer who may, or may not, have been responding to reports of a suspect fitting the man's description who had just committed a strong-arm robbery.  Businesses, homes, and the city itself were well-nigh destroyed.  Respected civil-rights leaders were calling for the police officer to be arrested, indicted, and convicted before an investigation was completed, thus demonstrating their utter lack of interest in due process on national television.  Politicians who are facing tough elections in their districts are distancing themselves from a President who appears ever more disengaged and uninterested in leading, even from behind. The economy sputters along, cost of living rises every week (for example, my grocery bill at Aldi, the cheapest grocery store I can find, has risen from an average of just below $100 per week at the end of last school year to between $110 and $140 per week at the beginning of this school year), and I recognize that I live in a boom-town in comparison to most other places in the country.

This is where my mind has been this summer, caught up in all sorts of dark places.  It's hard to concentrate on the goodness in my life, which is undoubtedly more than I deserve, when, emotionally, I feel that it is teetering on the brink of chaos.  And so, I find it tempting to retreat into the make-believe certainty of a world with labels, of us vs. them.  It feels good.  It feels right.  I have even done it, to a certain extent, in this very post.

Yet, all the while, in the back of my mind, I hear those names.  Those particular people:

Emmanuel Akwasi Afuakwah,
Angela Reed Kyte,
Philip D. Miller,
Rhondelle Cheri Tankard,
Ching Wang, and
Christopher Rudolph Zarba, Jr.,

among so many others.

Each one a gift from God.
Each one precious in the sight of God.
Each one willed into existence by the Lord.
Each one taken from this world by an "us vs. them" mentality, ripped from existence by those who had succumbed to what we used to call "Evil" with a capital E.

How are we to function then, in the world, without our labels for others?  Empathy.  Compassion. Humility.  An understanding that we ourselves don't have all the answers or a lock on the truth.  And, always, with the words of a very wise Person in our ears:  "By their fruits shall you know them." From what I can see on the television screen, many of those who were killed on 9/11 bore the fruits of love in this world.  This is a day when we should ask, "What are the fruits that can be harvested from our own lives?"  I hope the fruits of mine are compassion, love, and kindness.  


  1. Absolutely wonderful! Thank you for this beautiful essay that helps me to sort my feelings on this difficult day.

    1. Thanks, Laurrie. I've been wrestling with dread over the past week. My eldest asked me about 9/11 last Friday and, as I talked to her, tears rose unbidden and I realized that I will perpetually be dealing the trauma of that day -- the experience of uncertainty and fear as we wondered whether the Capitol Building would be next (right next to the building I was working in), the chaotic evacuation from DC, the smoke rising from the Pentagon looking so WRONG as it billowed into the cerulean sky -- all of it came flooding back and I just had to write today. Thanks for your kind words.