Today, September 11, is fifteen years since the terrorists attacks when, according to many commentators, "everything changed." As I teach war and terrorism and philosophies of nonviolence during alternative fall semesters, I am reminded each year as I study war, peace and terrorism to try to make sense of the issues, if sense can be made. Each year the students I teach have less memory of that terrible day than the students the year before.
Recently, I have been thinking more than usual of 9/11, perhaps because it is fifteen years, and that seems significant, or perhaps because Jane and I visited the World Trade Center Memorial during the summer, and the Pentagon memorial shortly before that.
Today's weird congruity for me was reading in the Jewish prophet Jeremiah:
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and the heavens they had no light ...I may have too vivid an imagination, but those ancient words played on my mind as I recalled images of the aftermath of terror in New York city. As I read Jeremiah, my response was "That's weird. It could be a description of Manhattan fifteen years ago." Perhaps the image of ruins and desolation is part of Carl Jung's "collective unconscious," and my strange congruity was because of a confluence of past events (9/11), recent events (my visit to the Memorials, commentary in the media, especially about Hillary Clinton's response to 9/11), and my dwelling on issues of terrorism at this time of the year. Did all that tap into a deep collective unconscious archetype of ruin and fearfulness? Who knows, really.
I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and the birds of the air had fled ...
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins ...
Regardless, according to the narrative, fifteen years ago "everything changed" and we were never to be the same again.
The narrative is only partly true. There is a sense in which everything changed on September 11, 2001, but then there is a sense in which everything is constantly changing. Every day, every hour, every moment, nothing remains the same. Some events seem to bring larger changes than others, to be sure. But, for me, the best policy for a decent life is not to dwell on the events that bring change, but rather to consider how sensibly to live with the changes that inevitably happen, large and small alike.
To live sensibly with change is, perhaps, the key to a life well lived, but is tantalizingly tricky. The earliest text (so far as we know) from ancient China was devoted to the subject—the Yijing, the Book of Change. Insights I have gleaned from the Yijing are along the lines of simply coming to terms with events (all events bring change), not wrestling with past events as if we could change them, and understanding that change is inevitable. The ancients looked to nature to give us clues to flowing with change. The tree in winter appears as if dead. Yet spring brings the new life of bud. Summer's effulgence in leaf gives way to the reds, browns and golds of autumn, to change yet again to the death of winter. In the "ruin and desolation" of winter, the sage knows that change will bring the buds of spring. The sage knows, too, (as do the squirrels, from observation) that summer's bounty will inevitably change too. Nature flows with the changes.
Some events seem to bring insurmountable change, something we will never "get over." Deep loss is such. September 11 was such. But, the sage knows that the conditions of loss and desolation, in time, too, will change.