On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I listened to a woman who was in Lower Manhattan during the attacks reflect on her experience. Through tears, she recounted the horror and fear she felt on that day. But she added that 9/11 was a wake-up call to her: it was a call to love more, not less. It was a message I carried with me an hour later to New York City, where I attended Religious Freedom USA’s Liberty Walk: An Interfaith Rally for Religious Freedom.
In spite of the rain, at least 1,000 people came out to the Liberty Walk to march for religious freedom in support of Cordoba Initiative’s Park51, or the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” As a diverse group of people of all faiths and none walked the streets of NYC arm in arm, it felt like a moment of transformation. It was not “us” supporting “them”-it was all of us, together, walking in hope and mutuality.
Near the end of the rally, a man stopped my friends and I and asked what we were marching for. When we explained that we were walking for religious freedom, particularly in support of Park51, he scoffed and said, “The whole country’s against you!”
In one sense, he was right: the road to religious freedom in America has been long and it will continue to be. But I believe he was also wrong: with our combined efforts, pluralism will prevail.
With this in mind, I look forward to our plans to honor the tenth anniversary of 9/11 at and around Harvard this coming Sunday. Joined by members of the community, we will gather together for a series of events to remember those we lost on that day and all who were affected, including a dialogue event put on by the Harvard Chaplains that will enable people to engage with one another about their own interfaith experiences through the historical lens of 9/11.
But we believe that remembrance, while crucial, is not enough. We also wish to look to the future and model the change we want to see in our nation and our world. To this end, the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard is organizing an interfaith community service event to package 9,110 nutritious meals to be distributed to food-insecure children in Massachusetts, a state in which over 660,000 people struggle to put food on their tables. By engaging in service work across lines of religious and secular identity, we aspire to embody America’s promise of pluralism on the anniversary of a day in which it was severely threatened.
9/11 will live on forever in our nation’s memory. We suffered an incomprehensible loss at the hands of extremists who believed that religious diversity must end in violence. But as people of diverse religious and secular identities, we can counter them with our unity. By building bridges of understanding, we can act on our shared values and learn-from and with one another-how to be our best selves.
On September 11th, 2001, I was fourteen-years-old and ignorant to a lot of what was happening in the world. That day was a wake-up call to be more aware of what occurred outside of my own context-to listen more, to learn more, and to love more.
Ten years later, the challenge remains. Surveying a nation splintered by religious identity, the voices of division ring loud and clear-but we can overcome them if we work together.
The Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said of his interfaith efforts in the Civil Rights movement: “When I march in Selma, my feet are praying.” And though I am an atheist and Humanist who does not pray, when I join with fellow atheists and with people of faith in working together to make the world a better place, I feel a sense of common call: to listen more, learn more and, above all, to act together in love.
Our nation will heal from the wounds we sustained on 9/11, but we must do so together. By acting in love and unity across lines of religious and secular difference, we can take another step toward reconciliation. I look forward to joining with a diverse coalition of members of the community at and around Harvard this Sunday to pack meals for those in need-to prove the terrorists of 9/11 wrong and demonstrate that in America we are, in fact, better together.
Chris Stedman | Sep 8, 2011 11:36 PM