"Those towers represented human triumph over nature. Larger than life, built to be unburnable, they were the Titanic of our day. For them to burn and fall so quickly means that the whole super-structure we depend upon to mitigate nature and assure our comfort and safety could fall. And without it most of us do not know how to survive. We know, in our bones, that our technologies and economies are unsustainable, that nature is stronger than we are, that we cannot tamper with the very life systems of the earth without costs, and that we are creating such despair in the world that it must inevitably crack open, weep and rage.
The towers falling were an icon of an upcoming reckoning we dread but secretly anticipate. The movement we need to build now must speak to the full weight of the loss, of the fear, and yet hold out hope. We must admit the existence of great forces of chaos and uncertainty, and yet maintain that out of chaos can come destruction, but also creativity."
"Only Poetry Can Address Grief."
Not since the Civil War has so much blood been shed on US soil. Abraham Lincoln, toward the end of that war, pondered our country's suffering and tried to reconcile it with divine providence. Everyone was aware, he began his Second Inaugural Address, that "slavery was somehow the cause of the war." Then he continued:
'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.'
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which having continued through God's appointed time, God now wills to remove, and that God gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him?
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away.
Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsmen's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'
Lincoln had a deep sense of what we might call "karma," a sense that even in historical time there comes a great leveling. The mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceeding fine.
As we ponder a more recent horror, we could use Lincoln's far-reaching view of history. Like Lincoln, we are overwhelmed by what we cannot comprehend. As a people who felt ourselves immune from threat, we have suddenly been thrust into terror. Europeans still alive remember running from the bombs of World War II. Jews remember the holocaust. The people of Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Northern Ireland, Palestine and Bosnia live in the midst of terror. Now we too have joined the vulnerability of the larger world.
Lincoln made no pretense of understanding. He could only "suppose" why there was so much horror. And he supposed that it had somehow to do with America's refusal to face its dark side. The Founders had been acutely aware of slavery as an unresolved issue. Their successors in government chose to ignore it and finally to live in denial about its ultimate consequences. When John Quincy Adams insisted on introducing petitions for the freeing of slaves in the House, Congress silenced him by instituting a gag rule. The problem could not even be mentioned in the halls of government.