After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, my wife and I pondered whether it was right to honor an arrangement to go to New York in October to meet with friends. With the encouragement of New Yorkers wanting to see their city get back to normal, we decided to keep our plans.
We were pleased to be there, but things were far from normal. As we turned a corner on a sightseeing bus, tears welled up in the tour guide's eyes. "This is the location from where we would have first seen the Twin Towers," he said. In the distance, instead, there was – to quote Bruce Springsteen's song, "Cautious Man" – "nothing but road"! The wrenching emotion of seeing that physical gap was an example of what was "not normal" in what was being called "the new normal."
There was a more positive "not normal" interlude farther along the tour. The guide – a proudly Jewish New Yorker – pointed out a Muslim community center. Would he have done so a month before? I don't know. What definitely would not have happened earlier was the spontaneous, eloquent speech he gave. He explained that Muslims are New Yorkers, too, and that they are a vital and integral part of the city's cultural mix. He said the terrorists were exceptions and that we mustn't hold the events of 9/11 against Islam. My heart melted at his inclusive and impassioned words.
As Sept. 11 arrives this year, it's tempting to focus on the past. What about the present? Today, like all days, countless couples are celebrating wedding anniversaries. Some of those are silver, gold, or even platinum commemorations. Precious new babies are being born to glad parents. Today, like every day, billions of people, from different cultures around the globe will spend their day supporting others through work, family, and community, or as loving neighbors and friends. Today is a day of much love being expressed in a rich tapestry of diverse lives.
Is it "pie in the sky" to value that? I don't think so. To me, it's a kind of prayer. One way of praying, in the words of the Bible, is to "magnify" the goodness of God in our thoughts. A psalm, for instance, says "I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving" (69:30). To me that doesn't mean exaggerating goodness or ignoring evil. It means noticing the goodness we'll miss if we are transfixed by evil. Sensibilities can get dull to the good going on when something bad clamors for attention. Yet good is going on constantly. Indeed such everyday goodness was going on globally, even as the 9/11 tragedy played out in New York, Pennsylvania, and in Washington, D.C.
In this age of "the new normal," prayer that magnifies goodness is needed to help heal the immorality of terrorism. In her book on prayer-based healing, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, described how to destroy depraved appetites, which would include willful violence. She wrote of gaining mastery over the body through the divine Mind, God. She explained, "This normal control is gained through divine strength and understanding" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 406).
Zeroing in on the good that's going on around us can be a steppingstone to thought that glimpses how the ever-presence of that Mind – infinite good – is revealing its mastery over evil to every heart and mind. It can help support that spiritual awareness in others, which enables them to open their heart to the forever normal of sinless self-control. That is, to relinquish the unspiritual temptation to commit violence and instead to become a part of the forever normal of lives lived in love; expressed in family, community, and across cultures.
As for that New York tour guide. I hope he feels the same way now as he did then. I hope his heartfelt humanity is still exuding the love for Muslim New Yorkers that he expressed then. I have a feeling that's just how he normally is.