Spirit Matters: 20 years later, where are we now?

Note: The United States as a nation, and the planet Earth as a people recall the devastating terrorist attacks 20 years ago this weekend on New York City, Washington DC and Shanskville, Pennsylvania. All who can remember, will remember where they were and what they were doing that morning when they first heard the terrifying news.

We said back then we would never forget.

Although looking in hindsight now, in 2021, it seems in many ways, by their actions and their ideologies, many people have forgotten, I don’t think that is true.

We cannot forget.

It is not possible to forget.

Those images of that day, the individual and collective shock and suffering we all felt, and from which we never imagined we would emerge, are indelibly imprinted on our minds and hearts.

The question isn’t whether we have forgotten.

It is more like: what lingering effect did the events of that day; indeed, of those long days, weeks and months of cleanup and grief – a grief that will never end, what lingering effect did those events have on our hearts?

As individuals. As a nation. As a global village…

Have we become a more peaceful people, determined to live and be peaceful in big ways and small, in any way we can?

Or have we hardened – steeled ourselves against such a vicious attack on our soil – indeed, on humanity itself – and determined to fight back, longer, harder, whatever way we can, to prove we are somehow “superior” in strength?”

Have we returned an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth?

Or have we, as Jesus taught how to handle conflict, “turned the other cheek?”

I’ll let you decide.

Lest you think by asking if we have “turned the other cheek,” I mean stepping back and allowing anyone to attack us or do what they will to us without a reasonable response, that is not at all what I am implying.

But, believe it or not, there are other ways to manage conflict then by brute force.

As a wise man who was murdered for his teachings on living according to the way of love and responsibility for our neighbors once said:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” ~ Matthew 5:9

It is our job to figure out how to be peacemakers in the complicated world in which we live.

No one said it is easy.

But we don’t have to do it on our own.

We cannot do it on our own.

That same murdered wise man also said:

“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.” ~ John 14:16

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23

Let us seek peace, according to the Spirit. Let us be peace, according to the Spirit.

Included below is a column that was first published in 2014, as I recalled the immediate aftermath of the attacks in my personal life.


Where were you on Sept. 12, 2001?

I’m pretty sure I know where you were the day before, at least for the better part of the day.

You were glued to a television set, stunned. Your spirit sank as it asked: Why this? Why now? What next? You did these things and thought these things because the terror attacks on the United States were designed to do just that: to strike fear into the heart of every American.

I had just finished my first summer in a camp office, being stretched in ways I never imagined, losing myself for the sake of others.

Though I had not realized it yet, I had bonded deeply with the rest of the year-round staff. So, when the news hit our little office in the woods on that clear, crisp sunny morning, we did what families do. We turned off the lights, locked the office door and gathered around the television in the camp director’s living room down the lane.

Images of airplanes striking the World Trade Center played in a continuous loop. And then, the unthinkable: the collapse of the two stately towers that had come to symbolize America’s economic prowess.

Smoke. Death. Chaos.

I remember sitting on the couch in Kurt’s living room and looking out the window to a surreal site: the graceful trees blowing in the wind in a quiet Central Illinois camp, while all hell broke loose on the East Coast.

That night, I gathered with my other family to celebrate my cousin Tricia’s birthday.

We ate Chinese food at the Grand Cafe in downtown Bloomington, which sits across from the majestic Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

A sublime silence blanketed the community as church bells tolled.

The next morning, that first Wednesday in a post-9/11 era, I did what I normally did before I went to work. I attended daily Mass. Only on that morning in Normal, the church was full of more people than usual, all one family, searching for solace amid shocked grief.

Two things stand out about that particular Mass. First, Fr. John O’Toole celebrated it, which was unusual. Fr. O’Toole was retired, a soft-spoken gentleman I remembered from my childhood when I attended church in Toluca with my aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. His voice, his gentle presence, was just what I needed that morning to anchor me in a benevolent Being I had begun to trust, embrace and know intimately.

Second, the sign of peace before the distribution of Eucharist took on a whole new meaning. Neighbors who normally rushed through the routine looked softly into each other’s teary eyes, reached out their hands and offered a gentle touch, a lingering token of peace.

This is where the long path to healing would begin.

People reaching out to each other, one at a time.

Where are you on Sept. 12, 2014?


Where are you - where are we - on Sept. 11, 2021?

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines spirituality. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and in your community.