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A reflection: five years after the Towers fell

Since my graduation last semester, one of my biggest joys has been choosing “want to read” books rather than “have to read” books. The first book I chose to read was one recommended to me by Betsy Morgan: Saturday by Ian McEwan.

McEwan’s brilliant writing immediately drew me into thinking the thoughts and living the moments of one specific man on one specific day.

The day begins when Henry, the main character, finds himself getting out of bed in the wee hours of the morning and witnessing at his bedroom window what appears to be an act of terror. He seems to expect that something terrible will happen, maybe like some of us.

Saturday is a post-9/ll novel. Henry’s thinking includes anxiety and anger and efforts to make sense out of what seems like the senseless. He thinks off and on all that Saturday, as things happen and people drift in and out of his moments, about how quickly things can change, and how something can happen “out of the blue” that changes lives in a very big way.

I think about that myself. What happened on 9/ll introduced a new “fear factor” into our thinking–as Americans certainly, even though what happened that day is a fact of life for many others around the world.

Terrorism opened my eyes to the fragile, vulnerable nature of our living in this world, and it made me more aware that life is a gift we’re given, not a right we deserve. My vision was broadened to include the visions of others, and I was led to take a hard look at my own motives and actions, to admit the “us/them” mentality in my own heart.

McEwan’s book provides a secular take on what happened. My own take is framed by my Christian faith. As Viktor Frankl said, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

In response to what happened on 9/ll, and as I struggle to come to grips with growing violence and devastating suffering, I can either hate and fear, or trust and love. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus grounds me in hope, even when it feels like my heart is breaking and I’m awake at night afraid of what’s coming next.

Regularly here at Eastern, we are asked to pray with one of our own, someone struggling with illness or some other life-changing event. And yet, we also celebrate when a new baby is born, or when someone’s medical condition improves.

This beloved community comes alongside one another in both suffering and joy. Maybe there are ways we can more often come alongside those outside of our community.

I know it’s costly to stay awake in tragedy, but I want to learn to “read” the days we are living with each other in God’s Spirit. I want to believe that I’ll go down believing in the power of redemption rather than living in the grip of fear.

Nancy Hartsock is the administrative assistant in the Provost’s office.

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