September 11 is a hard day for religious people. Christians pray for God to stop suffering.
In the sixteenth century, Teresa of Avila sold everything she had to build an orphanage for needy children. A flood came and destroyed the orphanage. She rebuilt it. A storm destroyed it a second time. She rebuilt it. Then a fire burned the orphanage.
Teresa prayed, “God, if this is how you treat your friends it’s no wonder that you have so few.”
We try to be God’s friends. We know from painful experience that God does not protect us from all harm. We share our sorrow. Sometimes we need to cry. We cried when we saw the plane slamming into the second tower as smoke poured from the first; the buildings vanishing in a gray cloud; survivors stumbling through the streets covered with ashes. We will never be the same as we were before that day. We have scars. We have wounds that will not heal.
There is a story in the Gospel of Luke about a tower falling and killing innocent people. Jesus’ followers are upset. They come and ask Jesus, “Why did this happen?”
I wish Jesus would put his arms around them and comfort them, but he does not. Instead he says, “We’re all going to die. You need to take care of the days you’ve been given.”
The disciples remembered Jesus’ words because they are not what we expect. Instead of comfort, Jesus offers a warning. Instead of reassurance, Jesus turns the question on its head.
When 9-11 happened we asked, “What does it mean when tragedy strikes?” For many of us, years have to pass before we can ask “What does it means when tragedy doesn’t come? Why do we receive these ordinary days?”
Feeling the frailty of our lives on September 11, on this holy day, helps us hear God invite us to see that no day is to be taken for granted.
In 2011, Candy Chang, an artist in New Orleans, lost someone she loved and fell into depression. As a way of dealing with her grief, she used chalkboard paint on the side of an abandoned house. She stenciled a grid with the beginning of a sentence, “Before I die I want to ______.” Fifty times.
Anybody walking by could pick up a piece of chalk and share a dream. By the next day, the wall was full of responses. Before I die I want to . . . Play the piano. Sail around the world. Plant a tree. Swim without holding my nose. Eat more of everything.
Over one thousand Before I Die walls have been created in 35 languages and 70 countries. I stood in front of one of those walls and thought about the people whose goal before they die is nothing more than to . . . Do a cartwheel. Swim in a pool of golden retriever puppies. Go to a World Series game at Wrigley Field. Proudly wear a bikini. Get my picture in The New York Post.
Those answers are interesting, but because we remember the pain of 9-11, because we live in a world filled with tragedy, we should do better. Before I die I want to . . . Care for my family. Care for someone else’s family. Work for justice. Remember those who grieve. Comfort the broken-hearted. Love someone enough to weep when they weep. Show someone who has almost given up how to hope again. Give God my sorrows and my dreams.