The widow of my sister’s son Karleton has delivered the baby she was carrying when American Flight 11 smashed into the World Trade Center, but Parker never got to meet his daddy. She’s remarried, too, to a wonderful man, and together they’ve added a son to their family, which now has three boys.
My sister and her husband have mourned their handsome, funny son and sought to comfort their daughters and grandchildren. Similar stories of grief and accommodation are told in 9/11 families all over the country.
Our nation has gone to war, to war, to war. And now we remove our shoes as we move toward our airline gates — our shoes for the shoe bomber but not our underwear for the underwear bomber. Go figure.
And yet it’s also true that so little has changed.
Since 9/11 the relentless but vaguely predictable patterns of life continue. They have moved me into grandfatherhood (six times) and out of full-time employment into a profoundly busy semi-retirement.
The evening TV news still comes on when it used to, full of violence and disaster, though nowadays the news comes as often through cyberspace, which does nothing to lessen the bloodshed and catastrophe, all those gruesome stories we can’t seem to do without.
What also hasn’t changed is our need for comfort, for assurance that somehow we are in the care of a loving God. Without quite knowing why, we crave the consolation of religious ritual, of prayer, of simply being with brothers and sisters in Christ who can walk with us through pain and joy.
And so even in our post-9/11 age, our churches continue to be called to offer space for people to grieve, to question, to express both outrage at — and tenderness toward — God. Our congregations must find ways in the midst of this maelstrom to anchor us to our core axis — that place where in some mysterious way the world makes at least enough sense to let us keep moving with purpose, a calling, as we Presbyterians like to say.
But I worry that our congregations aren’t terribly good at this task — or consistent. We run on the surface of things too much. We don’t often enough allow each other to express our deepest needs, worries, doubts.
Not long ago in a small group I’m part of through my congregation, one of our members described his concerns about his wife’s health. In response, we tried to say the right things, pray the uplifting words he needed to hear, worry aloud with him.
In that way, we were being the church for him, and yet the whole congregation must remember that many people in the pews are battling their own demons or trying to support others in those struggles.
Maybe what 10 years of living with 9/11 should teach us is that we are, finally, our brother’s keeper, our sister’s shoulder to cry on. And that’s a high calling, indeed.
BILL TAMMEUS is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at [email protected].