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The End Of Innocence, Again


Noah benShea

I don’t live in an evil world. And so I assumed that the world was not evil. And so I confused my world with the world.

When I was a young man in the 1960’s the assassination of Kennedy, and King, and Kennedy marked, I thought, the end of innocence. But innocence is forever virginal and on 11 September 2001 America was raped, again.

Like other perpetrators, this rapist accuses the victim. Like other victims the United States is accused of wearing its skirts too short, of going into uninviting neighborhoods where it was not invited, of inviting this injury. But this rape has no defense to reconcile its actions with its complaint. The big lie is still a lie, and no twists on simple envy or blind hate turn this into the truth. Many who bow in prayer forget that if you bow to truth and compassion you are already praying. Some people have a just cause, and some people just have a cause. Because is not necessarily a cause. To cast blame is not absolution from blame.

Hitler wrote a book telling why what he was about to do was necessary. Then he did it. The next chapter is now being written. Pages of reason however don’t make something reasonable. Evil can also type. Horror can be soft-spoken. Nightmares can happen at high noon. What is meant to be hidden often hides in plain sight.

My friends, there is incarnate evil in the world, and any of us can now be called as witness. Indeed, thousands ask us to stand in witness for them. Surely we now know that there are people who confuse kindness with weakness. Wisely and sadly it was the early 20th century communist leader Lenin who noted: "When you are among wolves you must howl like a wolf."

So now we must bare our fangs. Now we must bloody ourselves and pray that others will bleed more than us. Now we must fight injustice even as we pray that we are not unjust. "Conduct your victory as a funeral procession," wrote Lao Tzu. When we rain hell from the heavens we are all in hell. To fight terrorism we must strike terror. Even the destruction of evil is evil’s evil.

And yet, and yet I tell you that this terrible thing that happened to us has, in the main, brought out the best in us. People have been nicer, kinder, more caring, more seeing all of us as one. People have been braver, braver in their kindness, and braving certain death told their loved ones to be brave. Bravery, my friends, is never buried even if it is buried alive. Things don’t have to be good for us to be great. And it is scripture that reminds the dark forces: "Though you meant it for evil, God meant it for good." Recent books have suggested that mid-20th century heroism made it America’s greatest generation. Well make room for another. Like any other birth, greatness is often born with screams.

Our loss was a loss of lovers and loved ones from sixty-two countries. What makes us all blood brothers and blood sisters is that we all bleed, and now we are all bleeding. The ash that clouded New York City, the ash that covered those who ran for their lives, that ash contained the crushed and cremated. That ash made everyone one color. We have been anointed by ash. I trust we do not forget this for it is a sacred trust made sacred by those who are the ash. And the clouds of offering arose.

The attacks of 11 September have stirred me with sadness, with anger, with patriotism, and with uncertainty. And I know I am not alone. And I know that I feel very vulnerable and very alone. And I know that this is a sign of mental health. And I know not be afraid because I am afraid. And I know that I must put my faith not my fears in charge. And I know that all faith is a leap of faith. And now let us invite each other to take that leap, together. Let us hold hands as we stare across the precipice. Let us hold hands because we are held by a higher Hand. Let us remember that nothing ends that isn’t holding hands with what is beginning.

Let us remember to tell our children and remind ourselves that day follows night and every sunrise is a promise written across the sky. Let us remember to tell our children and remind ourselves that evil will not survive because evil eats its own children even if it uses silverware and says its prayers. Let us remember to tell our children and remind ourselves that evil never looks the same so take a good look. Let us remember to tell our children and remind ourselves that those who have died have not died in vain if we dare to live. "Sometimes," said Seneca, two thousand years ago, "even to live is an act of courage."

America is the greatest experiment in the history of nations. Never before have so many people from so many backgrounds lived together with such noble intentions. Like many who reach for stars we often fall short and yet touch treetops. If other nations don’t like us, that’s okay. Sometimes we’re not too crazy about ourselves. Have patience; God isn’t done with us yet. And God knows we have work ahead.

It is written in the Talmud that we’re not expected to finish our work, but neither are we excused from it. For all of us there is work we have to do on ourselves. For all of us there is work we need to do for others. For all of us now there is a task at hand. And there will be blood on our hands. God forgive us and give us strength. We’re not expected to finish the work, but neither are we excused from it.

All of us who have bowed our heads will bow our heads again. And again. All life deserves this reverence. Many will give all. Too many because one is too many.

May those who decide America’s course look in their hearts and remember that we are all children who have lost our innocence again. May those who lead America remember the adage that a politician is someone who thinks of the next election, and a leader is someone who thinks of the next generation. God grant us leaders.

In the days ahead, may there be kindness in our hearts and on our tongues. And steel in our courage. Someone once said that courage is only fear that said its prayers. Amen.

"If we are strong, our character will speak for itself.
If we are weak, words will be of no help."

  - John F. Kennedy, undelivered address, Dallas, November 22, 1963

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