This coming Monday will see two different kinds of commemorations related to September 11th. One set of gatherings and events will look back five years to September 11, 2001 and the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. They will honor the dead, both victims and the police, firefighters, and just plain folks who came to their aid and often perished themselves. And, I fear, burning beneath much of the surface of these events will be an anger that has not been extinguished, a desire for revenge, a will to find violent solutions to profound conflicts.
Another set of gatherings and commemorations will look even farther back- to 1906, and South Africa, where Mohandas Gandhi led his first nonviolent action in opposition to a new law that would require nonwhites– Indians, Arabs, and Turks– to register and be fingerprinted. A group of some 3,000 people gathered, and Gandhi urged them to resist the law, but without violence. Swearing before God their commitment not to obey the unjust legislation, they began that day a movement that Gandhi later came to call satyagraha– “truth force.”
September 11 can be a time simply for looking backward, for lamenting the losses of loved ones and, perhaps, of our national innocence and sense of invulnerability. More creatively, though, it can be a time for commiting once again to the task of finding ways to build bridges between people, for laying aside the ways of war, and for refusing to comply with the injustices and divisions have their root in fear, anger, and hostility.