Ten years later and when I look at the familiar skyline of my childhood, I still see only absence: the place where the towers used to be. And instead of filling that space with anything else, I would like to sit in silence. There is a different way to do this than what we see in the news.
In his post-9/11 reflection, Writing in the Dust, Archbishop Rowan Williams tells the story from John 8 of the woman caught in adultery. The tragedy seemed to have only two movements: guilt and death. It was an overdetermined narrative—with one way the story could be told, one way it could end. She was guilty and she should die for it, and the teachers of the law were waiting because there was no way Jesus could get out of this one.
So much of the news around 9/11 has had the same feel for the last decade. There are sweeping words used, black-and-white analysis with “good guys” and “bad guys,” and seemingly only one way for the story to end. The political scene has grown increasingly polarized, and there is more rigidity than ever in our debate. Is there a different way to do this? Is there another way to talk about tragic events that leaves room for the presence of the word? We might take a cue from what happens next in John 8.
Instead of playing out that moment the way everyone expected it to go, Jesus bends down and writes in the dust. Williams writes, “He hesitates. He does not draw a line, fix an interpretation, tell the woman who she is and what her fate should be. He allows a moment, a longish moment, in which people are given time to see themselves differently” (78). The story ends the way no one could have imagined: the accusers a little less self-righteous, the woman, freed in love, given the gift of a new life if she will take it.
This anniversary date, I wish for the same thing—for a moment of hesitation, a longish moment with space to tell this story differently, a holy pause to make our debate more compassionate, a chance to write in the dust of so many lives lost the promise of love arising still, new life out of ruins, hope from impossibility.
This 9/11 you won’t find me watching the special reports or reading the newspaper or listening to endless analysis on the radio. You will find me sitting outside someplace under a wide blue sky, taking a holy pause, letting the emptiness speak in sighs too deep for words.