death and taxes

by Andrea Elizabeth

It was jolting when after KERA’s sensitive documentary on people’s spiritual journeys after 9/11, they immediately air a show on finance. They had talked about how people got in touch with the importance of love and kindness over materialism, then, money starts floating through the air to promote the next show. Yuck.

I remember being told as a teenager after Christian summer camp that it’s hard to go back to the world after these mountain-top, spiritual experiences. Being confronted with death isn’t exactly a mountain-top experience, but it is a very spiritual one. Our culture tells us that we have to put these things behind us and re-engage with the world’s concerns. Materialism and entertainment seem to be at the top of this list. The family members interviewed on NBC last night demonstrated slightly different degrees of separation from 9/11. What happened 10 years ago was still very vivid to all of them, but one lady in particular seemed to be having a hard time coping. She has remained immersed in the sadness of it.

I wonder if there is a way to not despair and to not get distracted by the world’s concerns at the same time. The Fathers tell us to keep death in our minds at all times. Not a morbid fascination, but an awareness that this present circumstance has more dimensions to it than the one we often get caught up in. Somehow death can illuminate these other dimensions. In remembering those who have passed on, hopefully we can see clearer those who are still with us.

One of the most touching reflections on the KERA show was about the people who jumped out of the windows to escape the fire. How their holding hands with others on the way out was a picture of how humans can connect and find love and support amidst the most desperate circumstances. Another person said their leaving the fire in that manner demonstrated a choice to be placed in the hands of God instead of the fire.

There was also a discussion on religious tolerance. One priest generated controversy by wanting to share the pulpit with other religious leaders. I don’t agree with sharing the pulpit in Church, but I do believe God cares for everyone and that he will probably save, or at least give more people the opportunity to be saved than our exclusive claims can suggest. I think at least Orthodoxy best explains and contextualizes what is more commonly experienced. 9/11 brought people in touch with death in a unique, attention-getting way. People felt more connected with the departed in their efforts to save, rescue, and recover people they cared about more that day than they realized. Now, how to remain in that awareness.

Of course we can’t totally forget about money, and even happier thoughts. Perhaps the re-designers of Ground Zero are finding the right balance. It looks like they are keeping the original craters where the twin towers stood empty with water curtains on the basement walls. People describe those sites as sacred and I agree that it shouldn’t be covered up. But they are building an even taller office building right next to it. This is an act of defiance that I agree with. It seems resurrectional to me. As did the two beams of light where the towers once stood that they displayed at the original memorial service. There is a proper way to think about money in context with love for others, but mostly I think finances are way too talked about. Lord have mercy.