This past week we remembered the 14th anniversary of the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.
If you’ve never been to the memorial in New York City, it is an incredible experience. Not incredible in a jump up and celebrate way, but in depth and tragedy and even beauty. A few pieces in particular are amazing.
The first two are the fountains commemorating the buildings which were destroyed. Being around these two fountains is a paradoxical experience.
As you approach the fountains, there is the fresh, clean experience of water flowing which you typically expect from a fountain. Especially in the middle of a large city and crowd of people, the smells of fresh water and a breeze are striking. You are drawn to both the smell and the sound.
As you take in the clean air and rush of water, the first thing you will notice is that these are not like other fountains. Most fountains go up. These go down.
In the middle of each fountain is a huge chasm where all the water goes. You can’t see the bottom. It is uncertain where the water flows. And then you begin to notice on the rails surrounding the fountains, are the names of all the people who lost their lives.
All at the same time you have a visual representation of this huge, awful, un-explainable thing that happened. It is loss, grief, unknowing, uncertainty, and lots of asking: Why?
But at the same time you are actually hearing and smelling the flowing water and you cannot help but think of new life.
Inside is this piece.
To deny that the hurt and tragedy happens dishonors it. To try to explain it away is fruitless. To avoid the grating questions of “why” and uncertainty dishonors our experience. So we find ways to honor and remember the hurt and the pain and the suffering.
And yet we move forward. There is newness and life. What has been destroyed, broken, warped, and twisted is used to make something new and beautiful.
In one of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, Death is observing a human play. He is fascinated because he assumed humans would avoid the pain and grief of human existence. But good human art actually draws people deeper into human tragedy.
Art actually helps us deal with tragedy. Not by offering solutions but by really allowing us to deeply experience what we often don’t have the courage to confront.
And when we enter into the hurt and despair fully, we can then comfort.
There are a lot of really awful things said and done in the name of nationalism. But when you see the 9/11 memorial art and experience the tragedy anew, you find yourself experiencing great pride in America. There was something in those days that transcended the horror and brought people together and gave hope.
The beauty of the art at such a tragic location is that honors and respects what is true. The hurt and the pain is true. We need to mourn. We need to remember. When we remember we find comfort. We are offered hope. We are offered something bigger than ourselves which takes us beyond despair.
Mourning is often how we open ourselves up to transformation. When we mourn, we recognize we do not have the strength that is needed to go on.
Because the only way for transformation to come from great hurt and tragedy is to rely on something bigger than ourselves. If our own strength is what we are relying on, mourning is fatalistic. If mourning is how we open ourselves up to something beyond ourselves, then we have the hope of transformation.
The mourning is just as real either way, but comfort is found in hope.
I listened to a talk recently about how transformation occurs incrementally sometimes, but other times it hits us all at once. We learn to depend on God in incremental ways when we practice certain disciplines.
But sometimes we are thrust into dependence. We find ourselves mourning with nowhere else to turn. We need something, Someone, bigger than ourselves.
So we are blessed when we mourn because it here that we find God.
God moving us forward. God making us new. God providing hope. God providing comfort, when no other comfort makes sense.
So we remember. We mourn. And we trust. And in this, we are blessed.