A Benediction in Remembrance of 9/11

Cross at Ground Zero

Cross erected by construction and rescue crews at Ground Zero following the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications.
Benediction delivered at the 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony on Sept. 11, 2019 in the Memorial Church of Harvard University by Professor Stephanie Paulsell, Interim Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church and Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of the Practice of Christian Studies, Harvard Divinity School. 

On 9/11, I was here in Cambridge, getting ready for my first week of teaching at Harvard. At the Divinity School, we were still having orientation when the planes hit. 

At the end of the day, I crossed the parking lot separating the Divinity School from my daughter’s daycare to pick her up. There was a woman standing beside her car, someone I’d never seen before and have never seen since. As I got closer to her, she looked me in the eye and said, “Those poor people.”

Of course, I knew who she meant. Those poor people who had just been trying to get where they were going, or who had come to work on what they imagined would be an ordinary day, or who had run toward the danger to rescue others. We stood together for a moment in silence, total strangers who, for a moment, understood each other perfectly.

As the days and weeks and months and years after 9/11 have passed, the ranks of “those poor people” have only expanded. The pain that radiated out from ground zero, from the Pentagon, from the field in Pennsylvania reached into families and communities, touched the members of the military who were mobilized for war, touched their families, touched the people who have suffered and continue to suffer in the conflicts that followed.

May our lives honor the lives of all who have been lost,
all who have suffered in the wake of that terrible day.
May we honor them with our eagerness
to work for a world in which our lives are not swallowed up in violence,
but in which we are set free to be the people God means us to be.
God has not placed us at each other’s mercy,
but in each other’s care.

May the spirit of God enlighten us, transform us, and lead us into life.