This article was originally published in the October 12, 2001 issue of Commonweal.
On September 11, I heard that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers, and thought it was a terrible accident; within minutes another plane sliced through the other tower, and we all knew that it was not.
The light and air on the day of the attack were beautiful. I was reminded of a chilling passage in Endō’s Silence. During the persecution of Christians in Japan a priest is told that unless he renounces his faith, those he has been serving will be drowned, one by one; and as they are dying, Endō makes a point of the fact that the day was beautiful. The birds sing, a breeze is blowing, the trees are lovely.
I live in eastern Queens. When I looked west down the Long Island Expressway I could see the horizon full of smoke. My wife called to say that she probably couldn’t make it home from Manhattan that evening; the subways she needed weren’t running. She spent the night in Harlem with friends. It wasn’t an easy night to be alone, but I was glad she was safe. When I woke late at night I heard an airplane, and knew it was a military plane. I realized that this was an unusual thought for an American to have.
A couple of days later the streets in our neighborhood were filled with the smell of burning and a haze that stung the eyes, blown in from lower Manhattan. I thought of the attention to breath that is important in meditation practice, and wondered as I breathed not only what I was breathing in, but who. When I mentioned this to my sister she said, “There’s something sacramental about that,” and it is a dark truth.