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9/11 as Personal Ground Zero: Remembrance and Reconstruction

Posted Sep 09 2009 10:00pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Paul Martin of Original Faith. Thanks Paul!

Today I’m mostly bedridden – in my sixteenth year of a rare, incurable disease. On 9/11, although seriously disabled, I was still employed as a school counselor at an elementary school just up Columbia Pike from the Pentagon. The day began as follows.



In Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington DC, the morning of September 11, 2001, was one in a string of clear, mild days that almost felt like the return of spring. As usual, I clicked off the news on my radio shortly before 8:30 AM and headed for Patrick Henry Elementary School, which stood almost directly across the street from my apartment.

I’d been scheduled to speak to a class first thing that morning and had just returned to my office when our principal made a quick detour to step inside my door. With a roomful of second graders at her back, Cintia spoke quietly. “Have you heard the news?” she asked.

“I was listening to the news before heading out this morning…” I didn’t know what she was referring to.

Cintia started to tell me something about a plane crash in New York when she paused in mid-sentence: “Did you hear that?” she asked, looking at me intently. I played it back… I had — a low rumbling sound that had lasted two or three seconds. We would soon learn that a plane had just struck the Pentagon a couple miles away.

The rest of the day was a blur. And in the days, weeks, and months that would follow, my longstanding feelings of anger and indignation around my personal situation, as well as those that initially flared up in reaction to the terrorist attacks, were blown into oblivion – and many things fell into place. Things I’d had intimations of for years and, at one level or another, all my life.

Forms of Asymmetry

During the months prior to 9/11, my condition had been deteriorating more rapidly than ever. I had been doing everything in my power to resist the gathering darkness – but there it was.

Four fiery crashes – and there it was again. Reality. Reality that featured immense and undeniable darkness. The darkness of witnessing explosions shatter a beautiful morning. The darkness of the terrorist mind and the social injustices that helped shape it. The darkness of the deaths of victims and of their families and friends facing lifetimes of loss. The darkness of senselessness, with its outraged and unanswerable, “Why?”

It was as if the fireballs that had instantaneously affected so many other lives as they glittered across a planet’s television screens had publicly proclaimed the undeniable existence of a darkness that I had been experiencing in private for so long. Yet the nation’s life would go forward. And so would mine.

Not many things are black and white, but this is one:
Own the darkness when it comes
Or see the light extinguished.

Own the darkness of your unfair share, for there is one world that is strewn and streaked with darkness and light. Great pain brings us to see that we are no exception. What happens happens. The spinning world is streaked and dappled. A single shifting shaft or shadow can make our little lives appear specially blessed or specially cursed. Neither is true, and each of us should be prepared for change; for the streaks and patterns move and morph like clouds over a weather map, bringing both calm and chaos.


Accept the darkness and accept the light – and lean toward the light. Lean toward what you feel but cannot see, like a plant under the sun.

There is only One whole world, and it is dark, it is light, and it is leaning slightly and always toward the light. It is All inexplicable.

There is deep darkness – terrible, painful, haunting shadow. It can even overshadow our greatest dreams, and yet faith tells us that the World’s dream is so much greater: like a far-off dawn just now touching the tips of our tallest trees, illuminating little, but just enough for us to run toward light.

Lean, look forward, and run. The shadows may even swallow your last chance on earth for what you call success or happiness, and which may indeed have been a good thing. But there is such a thing as darkness, and none are exempt from either its certain eventualities or worst possibilities.

Indignation and resentment do nothing except make us lose our forward poise and balance, that asymmetry which is the measure of our humanity. They only rob us of the good things that are left, the helpful inclinations that may otherwise have been possible for us, including possibilities that we may not foresee. Our outrage only slams the door on God. Our violent protests only shut out the Allness of our owness.

In desperation and love, through the fearful sense of falling backward and losing ourselves, and the loving desire to find our balance in the wider and more truthful World, we seek union with the asymmetrical, forward, lightful bent of life’s dark soul in us.

Accept the fullness of what you cannot understand. Allow the Allness of your owness to settle over your shoulders.

Being Here

What is, is. Let me be a piece of that,
Amid the horror, explosions, shatteredness,
The strands of sense and beauty, the irresolvable whole.
WHAT IS is, and I shall be myself.
Contradictions are not resolved, yet I begin to resolve
The contradictions. I do not feel the tension any more.
The Whole is doing what it does, and I
Am wholly doing what I do.
In the crosshairs now, I see WHAT IS.
I cannot miss!
Desiring nothing for my splintered self,
I am being every inch something.
I care, but do not care.
I let go of my stake in all former aspirations;
Aspiring to nothing, I am occupied, every inch, with being something.
The worst cannot undo the act of what I am doing, and the best
Cannot change it. I am here. I am desperate, wise, strong
And live now beyond the land of my own dreams.
None of this is on my time. I resent nothing and no one.
I share in the whole world by laying claim to none of it,
Tasting what is sweet and bitter even in my own life
Like a sample off a plate in someone else’s home.
I am not here to stay and know it, and I no longer have a care
Because I wish to stay sane enough to keep caring.
Care like you died and kept on caring.
Care without a care, almost in just the way so many other events
Happen with no reflection or without meaning to,
But only because you mean it so much
That you are willing to be as heedless as it takes.
Become as ignorant of the parts and the frictions between them
As you were once so conscious of them in relation to yourself.
Be aware of being who you are in the arms or in the teeth of what is.
Forget all that might have been or might not be and there you are.

Where Do You Stand?

Once, long ago, I knew a way of great and growing joy. For many years now, I have known a way of great and increasing pain.

Suffering, we become empty. Joyous, we find more space. Either way, a new identity surges into the void that opens us up far beyond the borders of what we once called self.

On the way, there is an ego to outgrow and, eventually, a life to give up for a greater.

Where do you stand?

About the author

Paul Maurice Martin is author of Original Faith: What Your Life Is Trying to Tell You and blogs at He holds an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School and an M.Ed. in Counseling from the University of New Hampshire.

Copyright UrbanMonk.Net © 2009
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