What are we made of?

When an e-mail arrived with “SHE’s HERE!!” as the subject line, I assumed another grandchild had arrived.

Maybe that’s why I was so shocked when I opened it and read through the 24-point type that accompanied several pictures:

Here SHE is, the USS New York, made from the World Trade Center!  …  [The ship’s bow section] was built with 24 tons of scrap steel from the World Trade Center.

It is the fifth in a new class of warship — designed for missions that include special operations against terrorists. It will carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 combat-ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft.

… The ship’s motto? Never Forget.

US warship built from 9/11 "scrap"
US warship built from 9/11 "scrap"

My initial reaction arose from that place in me between gut and heart where the memories of the smell and the taste and the images of those first weeks following September 11 refuse to fade. In that same vault a grief too deep for words lives on in technicolor anguish.

No one needs to tell me not to forget, because I can’t.

I cannot forget the faces of those who kissed their loved ones good-bye that morning and never saw them again; of babies who could not understand “mommy isn’t coming home” and sobbing daddies who could not explain; of the haunted, exhausted look of rescue workers who spent months rescuing so little.

I cannot banish the scene that has haunted my nights:  airline passengers, flying through a classic October (in my dream it is always October, not September) morning, desperately calling home. I cannot erase the image of a blossoming cloud of smoke — the first symptom of a building, filled with human beings, falling to its death.

It was days before I could grasp what happened that morning, and I still shudder when I hear a plane passing low overhead, or when I have to walk through New York’s skyscraper canyons on a clear fall day.

In a bizarre way those of us in New York and Washington DC and Pennsylvania had an advantage in being so near to our tragedies. Like sitting vigil with the body of a loved one who has just died, the immediacy of our senses kept a path toward healing open inside us. The rest of you have had to do your grieving long distance, which presents a unique kind of suffering.

The steelworkers who worked on this warship, and the military personnel who observed its construction, have their memories, too:

When it was poured into the molds on Sept 9, 2003, “those big rough steelworkers treated it with total reverence,” recalled Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing, who was there.  “It was a spiritual moment for everybody there.”

Junior Chavers, foundry operations manager, said that when the trade center steel first arrived, he touched it with his hand … “the hair on my neck stood up.  It had a big meaning to it for all of us,” he said.

So what are we to do with our collective heartache? What choices can we make, right now, for our future together? Some of us will follow well-worn paths:

“They knocked us down. They can’t keep us down. We’re going to be back.” [Junior Chavers]

Others will blaze trails on journeys that gather us together in thriving local communities, sharing skills, wisdom, ideas, talents and dreams, working side by side to create something entirely new.

As horrific as 9/11 was, it is not the only misery we have suffered in our history.  And there will be more — collective and individual tragedies to tear us apart even as we live on.  I think it’s no longer the speculation of a few that all of us riding this little planet twirling through space are in a time of transition, one that possibly foreshadows a life-shattering transformation. It is human to be apprehensive.

I understand it may be difficult to imagine working toward a common goal beside someone we may fear; identifying the terrorist in each other is trepidatious work, and our historical inclination has been to shoot first and ask questions over the body.  But fighting each other hasn’t proven to be the whizbang strategy we once thought it was.

Maybe it’s time to think about “never forget” in a new way — something like “never forget we are all (non-humans, too) faces of the richly diverse Divine, none better or worse than another and each precious, valuable and necessary.”

What if we actually adopted a radical new way to live together, working with instead of against each other?  Might we discover that cooperation trumps competition, that working together may benefit every one on Earth?

We could even sift through the ashes of our sadnesses, adding the emotional energies generated there to our skills and dreams, creating tools that build a fulfilling, just, sustainable future rather than tools intended to kill.  Given our lack of success with the war thing and the speed with which we are rumbling along a track of self-destruction, this is at least worth a try. Our children deserve that much from us.

The warship message ended with a familiar pass-it-on e-mail plea: “Please keep this going so everyone can see what we are made of in this country!”

Well?  What are we in this country made of?

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2 thoughts on “What are we made of?

  1. personally the thought of making another “warship” out of the debris left me nauseated. When I got that email I deleted it with a bad taste in my mouth.

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