In a "bonus" second September edition of my monthly In Good Faith column, I reflect on perspectives gained on the 15th anniversary of 9-11.
Standing on Solid Ground
When I was in high school, a small group of us would often gather on the roof of my friend Matt’s apartment building in Brooklyn. I’m pretty sure we were allowed up there, but to gain access we had to travel up a sketchy, poorly-lit staircase that led to an old, battered door. A few furtive glances to make sure no one was looking, you know just in case, and suddenly we had again attained access to our urban refuge. Nothing illicit went on up there, though we did haul up a hibachi at one point.
But what was so striking about this special retreat was the view. The building, you see, was on the last street in Brooklyn Heights. It overlooked the Brooklyn Bridge and the East River and it offered a panoramic view of lower Manhattan. You could see the Statue of Liberty, South Street Seaport, and, most prominently, the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I will always cherish the memories of being up on that rooftop, laughing with good friends and discussing life as the sun set over that stunning skyline.
I’ve been thinking about this view and reflecting on the gift of perspective this week. Because this time of year always brings a mixture of joy and anticipation and excitement as we return to the fall routine amid beautiful New England weather. But given that this is the 15th anniversary of 9/11, it’s also tinged with a nagging sense of despair that exists just below the surface, at least for many of us.
Like a skyline, our perspective changes over time. Buildings are erected and razed, morning breaks and the sun sets, the view changes sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically. A skyline indelibly linked to the prosperity and confidence of a nation morphs into a symbol of humanity and vulnerability.
The temptation is so strong to place our faith in things that are fleeting. Like money or the allure of success or tall buildings; seemingly impenetrable symbols of strength and stability. And that can work for awhile, at least until it suddenly doesn’t, and our perspective changes once again.
The good news is that you can play an active role in the narrative of your own perspective. There are things that happen in life — tragic things, things out of our control — but we can affect how we choose to view life. When you claim faith as an integral part of your perspective, you are opening yourself to the counter narrative of love and hope in a sinful and broken world.
Perhaps that’s the miracle of faith: that despite our changing circumstances and perspectives, God’s love for us is constant and immutable.
Thinking about that view from the rooftop of my friend’s house in Brooklyn, I realized that a certain perspective had been irrevocably altered on that day 15 years ago. Partly because a dominating piece of the skyline had fallen, but mostly because our sense of invincibility had been toppled along with it. Yet what we see with our own eyes is not always the full extent of reality.
So often, what we hold up as icons of strength and stability are fleeting and we are reminded that God is the only permanent fixture of our lives; that we can rely on nothing we build with our own hands or create out of our own sense of self. Everything that is earthly will pass away. Everything, no matter how tall or how wide, no matter the cost or the beauty. And what remains is our relationship with God, our relationship with the eternal ruler of all creation. That is the bedrock upon which our perspective, and all else, stands.