Of Grief and Hope

September 16, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert


This past week, we remembered that very painful day 17 years ago when we were changed forever. September 11th will never sound the same to those of us who have a full memory of that date.  It’s hard to remember that day and yet, it feels altogether wrong not to, because for many, many people, it is a day that changed their lives forever.  And since that time, many of those who were first responders in the fire, police, FBI and others who helped with the response and search, have become sick or died as a result of their exposure to the toxins in the air in those days following this tragedy.  Many other Americans in the military, as well as civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, have lost their lives in the aftermath of that fateful day.  How do we remember?  How do we not remember?  Let us pray,  O Holy One, we turn to you this morning as we seek meaning in some of the hardest memories that we carry with us.  We ask that you continue to grant us wisdom and lead us to peace and hope in the days ahead.  Amen.

In 2010, I remember an article in the Boston Globe entitled, Building a Life Around a Hole in the Heart.  The article spoke about some of the children who lost their parents in the attacks that day.  Some of them were too young or not yet born and therefore do not have personal memories of the events.  Others have very clear memories of that horrible day and the hole it left in their lives.

I think about those children often as we were expecting our daughter at the time and so, she is the same age as many of the babies who were born in the months following with a father missing already from their lives. Other children were at various ages who lost a mother or father that day.  I personally know three people who lost brothers that day, and every year, they relive the pain and grief.

I invited Michelle to play a Springsteen song today, called Into The Fire.  In the early weeks after 9/11, Bruce Springsteen found himself reading many of the obituaries of people who had died that day.  Again and again, they mentioned that the person had been a fan of his or the family had asked that a favorite song of his be used at the Memorial.  He began to call these families and speak to some of them personally, to express sympathy and as a way to work out his own sorrow at this incredible tragedy.  He ended up writing a number of songs that dealt in various ways with that day and its aftermath and the album was titled The Rising. The song today is from that album as well as the title song, the Rising, which is a tribute to the many first responders who entered the buildings to try to rescue people.  Springsteen is a deeply spiritual person and these songs echo the lamentation of those who lost so much and they speak to the indomitable spirit of people and of the hope for resurrection. There is religious imagery in the song and one writer called it, “an Easter-like anthem arising out of the darkness and despair of September 11, a national Good Friday experience if ever there was one.”  There were a number of song writers who used their music to respond to the events of that day.  Others used words, visual art, photography and film.

Last year, a young woman named Delaney Colaio, began a film project about others who lost parents in 911.  She lost her father and two uncles in the buildings at the World Trade Center.  As a college student, she began writing and directing a film she called “We Go Higher,” which is a a documentary by and about children who lost parents on Sept. 11.  “We’ve committed to filming every single 9/11 kid that wants to be filmed,” she said. So far, they’ve interviewed nearly 70 of the more than 3,000 children who lost parents in the attacks, many of whom she was able to reach through the organization Tuesday’s Children. The current participants range in age from 15 — children whose mothers were pregnant then — to 52.

“A lot of the kids felt as though they needed this now — they finally wanted to share their stories and to help other people,” Ms. Colaio said. “They don’t want the suffering to victimize them anymore.”  The project has been an “emotional roller coaster,” Ms. Colaio said. “What I’ve learned about myself is that it’s O.K. to not be O.K. all the time — I never cry, ever, but through this process, I’ve cried almost every week — and allowing myself to feel all of those feelings was a big personal growth that I’ve had.”

Of the film, she added: “For people who are going through what we went through now, I really hope that this can be a message that there’s life after grief. If something tragic happens in your life, that’s not the end. You have the ability to continue going and write your own story.”   (New York Times, 2017)   The article showed a wonderful picture of some of the participants in the film gathered around the large HOPE sculpture in New York.    “Our God is merciful,” says the Psalmist in the reading today.  “I walk before the Lord in the Land of the Living.”

These young people are the ones who walk forward in the land of the living, however difficult that journey has been or continues to be.

What wisdom do we gain from suffering, from grief, from those who have built a life around a hole in their heart?   There is a great distinction between knowledge and wisdom. Today, one of our readings is drawn from the book of Wisdom in the Hebrew Scriptures.  The word Wisdom is defined as the quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement, and in the Bible, we understand it to be represented here by Solomon who asks God for wisdom, who said that the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, or respect and reverence for God.  in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word wisdom is mentioned 222 times.  It is clearly that the people of that day yearned for as they sought understanding about their own suffering and their relationship with God.  At critical moments in our own lives, we too seek wisdom, whether personally or collectively as a community or nation.

For many people, wisdom may come from experiences in life, especially experiences of suffering and grief. We know that many of us have shared great grief at different points in our lives, probably not in such a public way as those who lived through 9/11, but few people get through life without anguish and suffering.  Years ago, I went to a training on Grief Support.  We often speak about the stages of grief, as described by Elisabeth Kubler Ross.  That day, we learned about the “work” of grief, about the work that is needed to come to an acceptance of the reality of the loss and what it takes to move forward in life.  The real work of grief is the grieving and then the decision, often taking great courage, to move forward with purpose, to find creative ways to express one’s grief and to choose to live, not only to survive, but to thrive.  It takes work, hard work, and often people do it because they believe that there is a meaning to their lives, because there are others who love them and need them to heal and find a way back to the land of the living, and because in a very deep place, they may hear those reassuring words from the Prophet Jeremiah, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”  We may imagine how many people have taken solace from those very words over time.  (Jer 29:11)

The reading from Wisdom today reminds us that true wisdom comes from God and is an image of God’s goodness, “she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends with God,… For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness. ..she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets.”  The reading goes on to speak of the qualities of true wisdom, “She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior,  for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail.”  Against wisdom, evil does not prevail.  And in the end, “She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.”  These words remind us that true wisdom is a mirror of God’s ultimate goodness, that wisdom reaches throughout the earth to order all things well.  Divine wisdom can be a resource of great value if we are open to its teachings.

This lovely children’s book today reminds us of the places of compassion and love that exist throughout the world, from one end of the earth to the other. From Africa to America, a message of hope and kindness was shared by the Masai people reminding us “there is no nation so powerful it cannot be wounded, nor a people so small they cannot offer mighty comfort.”  That may be said of individuals as well…there is no individual so powerful that he or she cannot be wounded, nor anyone so small that they cannot offer mighty comfort.

I’d like to read from the Afterward written by Kimeli Naiyomah where he describes what led to the gift of 14 Cows for America.  He wrote,”I am the Kimeli in this story.  I grew up in a small village in Kenya… (Read from text at end of the book)