Those old enough to remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, likely recall what they were doing, where they were, what went through their minds. The horror was almost unimaginable and most of us were stunned.
What we all witnessed, in the midst of death and destruction, was that the goodness, the decency, and the heroism of the human spirit cannot be extinguished.
New York’s bravest and finest gave their lives to save many caught in the Towers, showing remarkable courage and goodness for the sake of others. As the days and weeks went on from those first tragic days, it became clear that neighborliness, caring for others, selflessness were strengthened rather than diminished.
It now is time to do more than look back in anger at 10 years ago and look forward to freeing ourselves from the damage done to us. That’s where forgiveness and simple decency play a role. As the president of the International Forgiveness Institute, I believe that forgiveness is one of the vital keys to creating a more humane future.
LISTEN: Roy Lloyd Reflects On 9/11
Briefly, forgiveness is a gift that we give to ourselves, freeing ourselves from what has been done to us. We do not need to define ourselves as people with a clenched fist. Rather, we can look forward rather than churn with thoughts of revenge.
A decade removed from that awful day, our society is splintered, some of it coming from what happened on 9/11. Intolerant attitudes are blocking the building of mosques in many places of America, including around New York City. Some Christians call Islam inherently evil and continue to point an accusing finger at Muslims as a whole.
But I am an optimist and I believe that the vast majority of all religious believers — whether Muslim, Christian, Jewish — are merciful, compassionate and open to learning about each other. That’s why I am encouraged by interfaith dialogues that discover common ground and by the friendships that are beginning to grow across former boundaries.
Here are some examples.
Muslims and Christians in Tennessee have found a friendly relationship because the Heartsong Church invited members of the Memphis Islamic Center to meet at the church during Ramadan while their center was being built. The leader of the Islamic Center, says, “We have different faith traditions, but at the same time, we know that we can get along, we know that we can work together. And we have respect for one another, because we are people of faith.” The pastor says, simply, that Jesus gave two commands — to love the Lord with heart, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.
In Boston, Muslims and Christians are helping each other through the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul, which provides space for the Friday prayers of a group of Muslims who work downtown. In response, the restaurant of the Muslim leader provides the roasted turkeys for Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the Cathedral for the homeless.
These green shoots of hope are growing from the ashes of 9/11.
Another encouraging development is that many American Muslims, especially the young, have reacted to the resentment and prejudice they now encounter by becoming more religiously observant — more Muslim, if you will. They are practicing their faith with a fresh commitment to a religion that teaches peace and rightfully are taking pride in their religious identity. Muslim elders are saying that the terrorist attacks have opened a welcome opportunity for Americans to ask questions about Islam.
In the last ten years we have started to learn how to talk with each other across previously un-traveled lines, and — most importantly — to listen and learn.
Our future must be based on understanding rather than being stuck in revenge for the past. The most significant result of the terrorism of ten years ago should be an ever-increasing commitment to communicate and share beliefs, while not imposing beliefs on others. If that happens, then there is real potential to build trust and a better world.
These words, from the memorial to be dedicated at the former World Trade Center, sum up my hopes: “May the lives remembered, the deeds recognized, and the spirit reawakened by eternal beacons, which reaffirm respect for life, strengthen our resolve to preserve freedom, and inspire an end to hatred, ignorance and intolerance.”
May it be so.
Roy Lloyd is the president of the International Forgiveness Institute