The needless deaths of 343 FDNY firefighters on September 11, 2001 touched my life significantly, but obviously not nearly so much as those who were close to these valiant few. Not only were their deaths profoundly tragic, but the unwarranted murder of the law enforcement officers, EMS and civilians, all done under the guise of “religious war”, just go to show that any teaching, regardless of how well-intended, can be twisted into hate and bigotry. The teachings of the Koran can be reconstituted to meet whatever needs some zealot desires, as can the Holy Bible, or any other religious work.
I have always found it interesting that the cowards who promote such extreme acts aren’t the ones strapping on a vest or flying into the side of a building. But fundamentalist extremists aren’t alone in sending others to their deaths while profiting one way or another from the sacrifice of warriors. As Sartre observed, “When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die”.
I blogged the other day about Ruth Cranston’s discussion on world religions and how there are more similarities than differences in each of them. There is a common thread of respect for others, interdependence on community and family, and helping others. The single-most emotion that overwhelmed me that day was that these courageous firefighters gave their lives to help others and I could identify with that. As Bruce Springsteen sang in The Rising about these brave men: “Left the house this morning/Bells ringing filled the air/Wearin’ the cross of my calling/On wheels of fire I come rollin’ down here“. They had no idea what they were about to face, but they did so with the total conviction of our calling, that of a firefighter. They went with the knowledge that they had to help others and while doing so, if chosen to leave this life and those we all love behind, they would do so.
If we genuinely want to honor those who serve our existence, not only firefighters and law enforcement and EMS and warriors, but anyone who reaches out their hands to another without considering their own safety, we must agitate for meaningful understanding of others and appreciate the differences and perspectives of others. In any religion I have studied, there is the notion that justice is due to the weak, but we are also not judge, jury, and executioner. Who are we to say who is really right and wrong?
We have a responsibility to profess our faiths and to educate others; but no religion, in my opinion, has the authority to proclaim that it has the exclusive right of existence at the cost of annihilation of another. I have my beliefs and am strong in my convictions, but who am I to say I am right and you are wrong? It takes a certain degree of audacity to suggest that you have all the answers, especially given the fallacy of mankind over the millenia. We have a much more important role to play and in this, maybe is our test: to see if we can survive this life without killing each other off.
Springsteen went on in The Rising to sing these words: “Spirits above and behind me/Faces gone, black eyes burnin’ bright/May their precious blood forever bind me/Lord as I stand before your fiery light“. We have a duty and responsibility to honor these brave few, not by tearing each other apart, but by serving one another. If you want to show your love for these people, find someone who needs help and reach out to them.
These men died doing just that.