This past week, my family gathered at a church in Queens, New York where my beautiful mother grew up, made her first communion and married my father. This time we returned to bury her beloved sister, my godmother Marilyn — or Mimi as the next generation called her. I walked down the aisle of the church behind my mother and her younger brother, their arms around one another and couldn’t help but imagine them as children, playing together with Mimi in this very place. Life flies too quickly. With so little time, how can we be anything less than kind to one another?
The kindness of family and friends warmed us on that dreary day like a soft blanket, cushioning loss with a soft layer of love. Goodness, we need kindness to ward off the mean chill of politics swirling in the air. Where has it gone?
These days I also have been reflecting on the weeks following September 11th when the whole world stood with America. A night or two after the terrorist attacks, I found myself in St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue with about 2,000 other New Yorkers seeking wisdom, quiet, solace. On the altar stood several religious leaders — ministers, a rabbi, a priest, an imam.
Among them was the charismatic Reverend Forbes of Riverside Church. “Be not afraid,” he said, quoting the Bible. He went onto say that he was glad to have known suffering in his life for it prepares the soul for hard times. Paralyzing fear, he said, would keep us from the kind of transformation — spiritual transformation — that we needed.
And then he gave the congregation an image I will never forget.
The body knows how to heal itself, he reminded us. “New York,” he said, “Our skyline has lost some teeth, but the body is strong. Either by natural process or by implantation, there will be a smile again.” We had lost our two front teeth. Of course, we had lost more than 3,000 souls as well, but all of us had the chance for renewal, both physical and spiritual. All of us had a chance for rebirth.
At that moment, a big white man spontaneously stood. In a deep, resonant voice he began to sing “We Shall Overcome.” Two thousand New Yorkers of every color, religion, ethnicity and class stood with him. We held the hands of those standing on either side of us. And we sang our hearts out. For renewal. For love. For each other.
I hold that image as metaphor for what we have to do today.
And that is going to take every single one of us.