September 10, 2001. You might have seen me, on the south side of Fort Collins or in Windsor, stocking your favourite 7up product on the shelves of the neighbourhood King Soopers or Safeway. Ordering in thousands of dollars worth of soda and seltzer water, stopping only long enough to punch the orders into my phone before collapsing into bed, dirty and exhausted. (Perhaps it’s no coincidence that my penchant for moderately expensive mid-range Scotch found its place in my grimy and caffeinated soul during this period of life?)
But, September the 10th. Nothing was in the air. Nothing was out of place. We all know what happened the next morning. I wasn’t even awake until the second tower fell. Tuesday was supposed to start my “weekend”, after all.
Do you remember how quiet it was? The next few days. It’s what I remember – the quiet. Unnaturally quiet. Still, but not the peaceful kind of “still” that one might find hiking on a remote trail. Still, as a violent stillness, a warm and rancid frozenness. These were the early days, when no one was quite sure if the attacks were over, if this was a one-off strike or the start of something nightmarishly common, a new normal. Rumours in those days circulated around $10 per gallon gasoline and a stock market in free-fall.
No planes were allowed in the skies those first few days. I recall heading to the foothills near my house, by a small reservoir where deer reliably make their evening trek down below to the water’s edge at twilight. And my God, the silence. No planes, few people, few cars. The silence had driven us within ourselves, as if the shift of our understanding of our reality needed time to germinate and to establish definition.
And the mailboxes, do you remember? The month after, the way we all had to keep our mailboxes open, all the time, for fear of anthrax in our envelopes. Everyone’s mail just sat and stared, exposed, stuffed precariously into its tiny house with the red flag raised high, stretching towards the quiet sky, from one possible threatening stage to the other, connected by an undercurrent of fear and shock that defied so many of our experiences. It seemed, at strange surreal moments in those days, that a thread in our fabric of existence had been yanked forcefully from its stitch, and all one needed to do was to start pulling for the entire experiment to unravel to a clump of colourful string upon the pavement.
There was a sick numbness to the whole thing. It’s been 15 years since I’ve felt it, and I don’t think a week ago I’d have been able to describe it, or even recall it. That sick silence. But I’ve felt it this week, since Tuesday, and I know you know I’m talking about this election result, and I know some of you reading this don’t consider that to be a disaster. I’m trying my best to understand that view.
All I can say, is that a stunned silence fell over me Tuesday night, and is only now beginning to thaw three days later. Instead of those silent skies and open mailboxes, this time I find I am surrounded by vitriol. Regardless of political persuasion or one’s definition of “Christianity,” this election seems to have brought out the crazy in almost everyone. This time, the silent cess pool is boiling.
I have the urge, like so many, to quantify this experience, to somehow define it. Yet, I am resisting it for now. I will likely resist it tomorrow, and perhaps even the next day. The contemplative religious (of which I am an unabashed and unapologetic novice among novices) knows to not rush to define such momentous shifts of the ground beneath. To connect with the Divine voice of the Spirit of God takes time, and cannot be heard (as Richard Rohr reminds us) over the sickly false sweetener of fear, nor in the midst of anger.
So, the smart phone powers down. The roar of disembodied voices over the social media nightmare becomes a faint din. The voices of satire and dark sarcasm, which I normally so enjoy, must be silenced for a time to favour instead the sobriety of these holy moments.
And these moments, they are holy. When I could turn to fear, or anger, or labeling, I might be proud fifteen years hence that I can recall those first few days with clarity, that I allowed the holiness of the ground I stood on to seep into my pores as wisdom desires to do. There will be plenty of time for quantifying this experience, for resistance where required, and compromise where needed and appropriate. Reconciliation, if it will come (and YHWH may it come!), will come from voices of strength that understood the holiness of the task at hand.