But I don’t remember much of anything factual about Monday, September 10, 2001. What I do remember is my brother waking me up way too early the following morning with some stupid story about an airplane flying into one of the twin towers. At the time, I felt that my younger siblings were more of an annoyance to me than anything else — a prejudice I was privileged to hold as the eldest of our parents’ three children. So having my sleep interrupted by such an incredible claim, coming from Nemesis No. 1, just made me angry. I was much less forgiving then!
Nevertheless, he was persistent and continued to try and get me out of bed.
My father worked in midtown Manhattan then, my mother in central New Jersey. In our den, we had a decent sized television with DirecTV and a sound system appropriate for a small dance club. Now lying awake in bed, I could hear my brother and sister watching the news downstairs. I still didn’t believe that anything had happened but was curious to know what had gotten them up and watching the news, so I got out of bed and walked down the stairs into the living room.
From there I could clearly see on the screen the faces of people in shock, people in tears, people running, and a building in flames. Shortly after, I watched as the second plane flew into the first building’s twin. Despite witnessing the event, there was still a certain amount of incredulity that kept me from having any real response. It was an unreal scenario, outside the realm of the possible, and it didn’t make any sense.
Then my mother called to tell us that she was coming home from work, and that we should stay there. The phone lines into Manhattan were jammed and we were unable to get in touch with my father. And that was when everything became “for-real real”.
I came out to my family in a 1999 letter written specifically to them. My mother bugged me for weeks about what I wanted for my birthday — her firstborn was turning 20. I told her that what I wanted for my birthday was to give my family a gift, and that that was all I needed. It must have been quite a shock when I delivered my five-page letter, but I wasn’t there to witness it because I had left home, anxiety-ridden and with no game plan.
The letter eventually got around to revealing the fact of my sexuality, but the bulk of it served as written catharsis, finally exposing years of depression and religious angst revolving around unanswered questions, questions answered unsatisfactorily, and questions left unasked. Although it felt good to relieve the burden of a hidden sexuality, I still found it difficult to admit that I was unsure of my religious views. Unsatisfied with and even harmed by the dogma of our family’s particular brand of Christianity, and confused by much of its theology, I left the church. The only options for salvation were miserable-now-and-saved-for-eternity or content-for-now-and-damned-to-hell. I decided that I was an atheist, I didn’t need any organized religion, and my choice—my heresy—would seal my fate.
In 2000 I officially became a Unitarian Universalist. Atheism didn’t pan out, and I missed the community and the living religion only found when likeminded folks get together with common purpose. After much research, I landed in a UU church and believed I had found a new religious home. Initially, I took the introductory religious education courses offered, but didn’t really integrate myself too well into the life of the congregation. And then my nuisance of a younger brother woke me up with some story about a plane and the World Trade Center…
After the stresses of the day had waned, all my friends and family who worked in Manhattan were accounted for and I was grateful. My yearnings for the “spiritual food” my aunt insisted I needed a few years earlier began to grow, and I was eager to get more involved in Unitarian Universalism. Returning to the slightly-less-than-omniscient Internet, I stumbled across what was then a thriving group of lively UUs on the popular religion site Beliefnet.com. Using my newly inspired handle “ExPluribusUnum”, I there became acquainted with ChaliceChick, the Socinian, and several other people with whom I have enjoyed (sometimes intense) theological and ethical discussion. It was there that I first encountered the ubiquitous RobinEdgar.
I dove right into this new, exciting religious community, and was hooked. As my moniker suggested, I was convinced that human beings can coexist, and indeed that out of many nations we are one people with the same struggles and possibilities. The “9-11 attacks” were an affront to humanity itself, and in my mind the only spiritually appropriate response was to unite in godly love and combat the hatred that arises out of desperation, as we have forgotten the truth that we are all “God’s children”.
At 30, I have now been a UU for longer than I attended the church of my teens. I love the openness, the community, the breadth of theologies, and especially the freedom (and expectation!) to question things — even God. Years later, now living in Baltimore, I can recall participating in a group at the First Unitarian Church of Baltimore called “Foundations”, in which we discussed what defines today’s Unitarian Universalism. I struggled with the concept of salvation, still carrying the baggage of heaven vs. hell in my spirit. One day, taking a break from work, I stopped to listen to some Bible radio — something I do on occasion to test, question, and strengthen my faith. Listening to the fire and brimstone preaching of this particular program, I remember being totally unattached to the rhetoric and having more of an intellectual curiosity than an emotional response. Eureka! That was the moment I truly stopped believing that God would condemn me to eternal damnation, and all I could feel was pity for the radio host. Universalism more so than (but not independent of) Unitarianism is the part of our heritage that really allows me to feel free, and to be free, awash in God’s love.
We are all one people, sharing the same little blue planet, on a common course through the universe and through history. And every year on September 11, I reflect on all of this personal history, and am convinced that becoming a Unitarian Universalist has saved me.
Eight years later we are stuck in multiple wars; and despite having elected the first Black president, tensions based on difference are heightened around the globe. Differences in race, class, ethnicity, and belief — these all make for a beautiful bouquet that should be honored and celebrated. This is something that Unitarian Universalism can do well, if we work at it.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say:
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
Violence and hate do not bring salvation. Only the Spirit of Love and of Life can do that. Unitarian Universalism was open to me when I needed to be loved, and I am forever grateful.
That is what September 11 reminds me every year.