Thinking back to 9-11-2001 is not an easy exercise - lots of emotion, not much of it uplifting.
Still many questions. How do you respond to raw evil? Has "everything changed"? Has our character as a Nation been mortally struck? What is the correct way forward? Tough questions without easy answers in a real world.
Looking for some guidance, I ended up in St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA. Prayer? Sure, prayers always help. But St. John’s offers something more. The answer to our “current troubles” was, perhaps, provided to us long ago at St. John’s Church. You and I already really know the correct answer to the legacy of September 11; but, perhaps a little review is in order.
On March 23, 1775, Mr. Patrick Henry arose in St. John’s Church to address the Virginia Convention. George Washington, Richard Henry Lee, and Thomas Jefferson were among the delegates sitting in the pews. You can actually stand in the aisle at St. John’s on the very spot where Mr. Henry gave his famous answer to the threat of foreign intimidation and to the growing possibility of war. The answer then to all the difficulty, to all the uncertainty was: “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or…”
But, I wasn’t looking for “the answer” at St. John's Church. We all, when prompted, can recite that famous answer by heart. To me what was more important was: What was the question which preceded that famous answer? What was the plea? What was the challenge presented to those delegates, to Virginia, to all the colonies which made them willingly give up their "comfort zones" - to risk their lives, their families, their fortunes - to confront a very uncertain world?
Here’s the question which Patrick Henry asked, the clear challenge he presented:
“Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?"
That question remains at the very root of human existence. It’s not so difficult to destroy skyscrapers, criticize military strength, and envy an economic miracle.
But, attacking the symbols begs the question: What system produced such “targets”? A system that values liberty, which accepts and protects a diversity of people, religions, and beliefs. A system which permits free expression. A system which seeks to lift up rather than tear down.
The American question for today is the same as the question posed in St. John’s in March, 1775. And, for those who think September 11 “changed everything”, I believe they misunderstand and misjudge the essential spirit – the heart and soul – of America. As for me (and I suspect for most of you), the American answer remains the same after all these years, “I know not what course others may…”
One other thought. What should be done in the future with the World Trade Center site? The rebuilding is about complete, new skyscrapers, a memorial park, lots of open space for reflection. Some land remains and I would like to suggest a possible design for the next building.
Picture a five-tier building, sheaved in granite with a horizontal linear pattern halfway up, repeated again about three-quarters of the way up. The top of the building should be curved and rounded, with the top twenty floors faced with opaque glass.
I regret this description is so thoroughly less than adequate. Wish I were a draftsman or an architect, so I could give you a clearer picture. But, if you’d like to see what I have in mind, take your hand and fold down your thumb and all fingers, except the middle one. Understand?
And if that made you smile; then yeah, you've still got that original American Spirit! So, chin up!
Lock and load; let’s go forward!