My Bethany: a 9/11 reflection

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Jesus went to Bethany to rest.

Comforted by friends and by the spiritual space, this was the town where He could refresh, reconnect, and rebuild Himself for the ministry that He would offer to a yearning and divisive world, 2000 years ago.

My “Bethany” is the stadium in Flushing. For the majority of my life, it was Shea Stadium, and for the past 11 years, it is Citi Field. For those who know me best- it is home!

Like many other sports fans, I get lost in the game. I value the communities who cheer along with me, the memories of shared laughs and occasional beers, and the enthusiasm of my daughter, nephews and nieces at the sight of Mr. and Mrs. Met. (I also recognize the disparity of wealth, and many other uncomfortable realities that can serve as a different reflection for another time).

While I love the opportunity to experience  “my Bethany” with friends and family, I also enjoy going alone- nourishing my introverted self. I embrace the soothing stroke of the Flushing Bay wind, the sounds of a crack of the bat, and the background chatter of strangers.

Tonight, on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attacks against our country, I was overwhelmed with thoughts as I was blessed to take in a meaningful September baseball game. As I settled into my seat, the pregame ceremony started which appropriately recognized the first responders and children who were directly impacted by the events of 2001.

Throughout the game, a three-hour plus affair that saw the Mets appropriately tally 9 runs and 11 hits, I processed a significant number of reflections, that I vulnerably share with you now:

  • 18 years ago, before the first tower was hit and after the second tower fell, I sat in a class as a sophomore at St. John’s University. Less than 16 miles away, thousands of lives ended and millions of lives changes forever- and I had no idea. I cannot tell you what the course was or the topic of that specific lesson, but the life lessons that occurred beyond those concrete  walls live forever within my heart.
    • As a note for a younger audience: This was before the time of social media, and our cell phones lost their signal due to the high volume of calls.
    • When the class ended, a student entered saying the school was closed because of an attack in Manhattan. We had no idea what was happening until we walked outside and saw the smoke-filled landscape from Lower Manhattan (from campus, the highest point in Queens, we have stunning views of the City)
  • I taught a first-year course today to students that were not born when these disturbing events occurred. As I invited them to pray before our class, one student remembered the lives lost on 9/11 and I was both impressed and humbled by the sincerity of his words as 9/11 was to him as Pearl Harbor was to my generation.
  • During the game tonight, I recalled my first game after 9/11- a Sunday affair where the Mets lost on a Brian Jordan 9th inning home run. Before the game, my dad pointed to the exits and our escape plan in case a plane flew into Shea (including the harsh reality that if it came into the 3rd base side where we were sitting, there was nothing we could do). I can see myself holding the small American flag that they distributed at the gates, processing such a harsh possibility while also still caring about a game.
  • I remembered standing before a full Church seven days after 9/11/01, feeling the greatest sense of patriotism in my life, accompanied by a need to respond the call to defend our country. I recall the thought that if there was a draft, I would proudly go serve.
  • Two years later, now as a senior in college, I was angry with a Theology professor who raised his concern in how our military response to 9/11 led to tens of thousands of deaths (of which, many were innocent). It was one of the few times I ever argued with a professor, but over time, I came to understand that his point, while controversial and extremely difficult, was formed out of truth and justice.
  • Tonight, like many others, I considered how we, as a country and as a community, felt the greatest sense of connection in those days following that dreadful Tuesday. The noise stopped and all that mattered was love and each other.
  • Like many others, I waited for the President  to tell us how we will respond. I felt uncomfortable then as I do now as my screen lit up with what the news anchor described as bombs. I recall wondering how, when, if, this would ever end.
  • I am uncomfortable with the burden that many faithful practicing Muslims continue to carry as they worship our God. The looks, the abuse, the different reality that they experience- all because of extremists.
  • I am saddened by the variety of faithful people, throughout the world, who cannot worship God. Christians, Muslims, Jews, and all other religious traditions that cannot worship freely, many of whom who face death if they are caught praying to God.
  • I recall a music minister from my parish looking to the sky saying, “Just wait for the next plane,” and the parish secretary saying, “it will only get worse from her sonny.” Talk about fear- and for how many today is this insecurity a daily reality? How many refugees are seeking safety wondering what the next hour will bring?
  • I thought of my family and friends who lost their father, their uncle, their friend. I cannot even imagine the pain they feel today as their loved one never returned that evening- 18 years ago. What feels like yesterday is almost two decades- how can that be?
  • I remember filling paper bags with sand and a candle that led neighbors into the Church, offering a place of refuge. How the Churches were filled those subsequent weeks!
  • I recall a Friday candle-light prayer service on the campus of St. John’s where, for the first time, I felt in my heart that I needed my faith. I owe so much of who I am today to that evening reflection.
  • I feel great sadness in the 100-plus deaths of heroes over the past 18-years who breathed in toxins in an attempt to save lives. I cannot imagine the suffering, the heartache, the loss of these brave individuals and their families.
  • Where does it end, I wonder. What can we do as a people in a divided world? Where, how can we feel peace that exists not only in our hearts, but in the hearts of the  stranger?
  • In looking at social media this day, 9/11/19- it was just exhausting. Most people reflected on their memories while some politicized it as they do almost everything other issue of the day. Social media was a burden this day.
  • I cannot help but wonder what our world would be like if we did not fear the unknown, if we sought reconciliation and love instead of war and hate. I am hopeful because of the inspirational mentors and heroes of our time, but I also am growing tired of the division and the arguments that seem to accompany every issue of our time.

As you can see, today was filled with many, many thoughts. I imagine you may feel the same.

I am exhausted, while also hopeful. I find hope in the power of a Holy Spirit that moves through each of us, providing an amazing grace to be people of peace.

I am comforted by the bravery, the strength, and the love of those who were directly impacted by those events 18-years ago. They inspire me- they challenge me- they reveal to me the power of our Creator who lives within our souls.

On this tumultuous day, I found some peace in my Bethany in the diamond in Flushing. As a simple game was played, I could not help but recall what 18 years did to me and to you- and I can only pray that we can, as a human community, find a shared, communal response to be people of God’s unconditional, endless love.

2 thoughts on “My Bethany: a 9/11 reflection”

  1. Jimmy, I am a recent follower and am amazed at the depth of your faith and insights. You have been truly gifted by God and are embracing His gift and sharing it. I am humbled to have had you as a student. I will remember you and your family this weekend while on retreat. Wishing you many blessings, Jean Maffia

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    1. Thank you so much for your very kind words and prayers. Please know I owe a great debt to you- you were an amazing teacher and a model integrity and strength. I will never forget that and I credit who I am (and who I continue to try to be) to the wonderful teachers and mentors that God blessed me with- and I absolutely consider you in this company. I hope you are doing well. Thank you again for your very kind and thoughtful words.

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