I will never forget that morning on September 11, 2001. My wife called me from work to tell me to turn on CNN. All of us across the country felt the shock and the numbness. All of us felt the uncertainty of what lay ahead.
I had friends in New York City, Taylor and Susan Field. Taylor directs Graffitti Ministries which is on East 7th Street. I tried to call to see if they were alright, but of course, getting through to New York by phone was impossible for several days. I did send an email - it felt almost like tossing out a message in a bottle - I only hoped that there would be someone to read it and respond. It was weeks before I knew for sure that they were okay. Taylor later wrote a book about his ministry in New York called Mercy Streets: Seeing Grace on the Streets of New York. In it he included a very moving chapter about that day on 9/11.
I heard comments about this tragic event being the first time that terrorism had impacted upon our own land here at home. Like everyone else in the country, I watched the news each day and hoped for some resolution, some return to normalcy. Even as I was feeling the shock and the sorrow, I knew that this was not the first experience of terrorism on our shores.
On the first anniversary of 9/11, I wrote the following poem as a way to bring my thoughts and feeling together to commemorate the day. The poem is written in two voices. I have itallicized every other stanza to help keep the two voices separate while at the same time blending those voices together in a search for where to go from here.
When Towers Collapse
by Charles Kinnaird
It was an invasion
Of stealth, arrogance and deceit
That brought the two towers down
And inflicted a wound that would not heal.
When the steel and concrete gave way
Something inside gave way
As if the soul could drop to Sheol
While the body still finds its breath.
“From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever,”
Chief Joseph told us.
There is the urge to fight back,
But fighting will not rebuild the towers.
Killing will not heal our wounds.
Our songs may remember the two towers
But the towers will never be replaced.
How will thousands of bodies ever be found?
How will each soul be remembered?
How will the hole be filled?
Too many empty spaces
Where fathers, mothers, sisters and sons once sat.
So many empty places in too many beds,
All vacated with the passing of a single day.
Your twin towers collapsed.
We had our own towers, so to speak.
There was the Land
And there was our Culture –
Those were the strong towers
That held our lives
And nurtured our spirits.
Our land was taken
And our culture collapsed over time
After a systematic campaign of terror.
Where is the monument that could hold our grief?
Where is the house that can contain our sorrow?
There is the instinct to reciprocate,
To lash back at the enemy.
Let them taste their own bitter tears.
Visit hate with hate.
We lived with devastation and heartache
With a wound that would not heal.
Our names still echo throughout the land:
Tallapoosa, Wetumpka, Sylacauga,
Notasulga, Tuscaloosa, Weogufka,
Why could our daughters and sons not grow
In the lands that bear our names?
May we never forget those whose lives were taken.
We must learn to walk with sorrow and wisdom,
Celebration and sadness.
We must learn to live with grief for what was,
Joy for what will be,
And gratitude for what remains.
Our names continue to call out
Like too many empty beds.
Like so many empty homes
Our names call out.
We must learn to live with the pain
From the wound that will not heal
While we reach for the balm
That comes from living
In the hoop of the world.
Today we walk on bloodstained ground.
Both the blood of our forebears
And the stain of our own doing.
We see times of collapse
And times of building up.
Some days, we will fight.
One day, we will fight no more forever.
The hawk rises
But our wound will not heal.
We may know joy
But we cannot hide our grief.
We may live with wisdom,
But we cannot erase the sorrow.
We will not erase the sorrow.