Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ground Zero and the meaning of death.

Good morning God,

When president Obama visits Ground Zero today, he will meet with representatives of the families of the victims of the September 11th terrorist attack. In so doing, he will underline the importance of the deaths which occurred on that day to every American. Although they did not choose to die, and I doubt had any desire to become martyrs to the American way of life, nonetheless their deaths forever changed the history of world.

But what is it that makes some deaths more meaningful than others? Why, for example, are the deaths of the victims of 9/11 any more 'life-bearing', any more worthy of national and international respect and consideration, than the countless thousands who die before their time every year in America and throughout the world through want of proper health care, or through gun crime?

The names of those who die from curable diseases, from famine, flood or tornado, who also did not choose to die, are not carved in stone. They often have no memorial, no 'Ground Zero' to draw people's attention to their loss, but surely they are as much victims of providence as those who died on 9/11? Their lives were just as important to you God, and to them as those of the victims of 9/11 - but apparently they are not as important to us. Why not?

Is it simply that all the deaths from 9/11 all occurred at the same time, at the same place?
Is collective death more important than individual death?
Or is it just that it is more visible?

We have come to believe that death should be a private family affair, something that occurs at the end of a long and fruitful life. We should die surrounded by our loved ones, in no pain or distress, with a priest or a minister to hand to assist us as we transition to the life after death promised to us in the Scriptures.

Public deaths are abhorrent, terrifying and offensive to us, they force us to see our own mortality, our vulnerability. They don't allow us to excuse ourselves and look away.  They teach us the truth of the saying 'there but for the grace of God go I' and how little control we actually have over whether we live, or die.

Ground Zero has become a public monument to the mortality and vulnerability of every human being. Including Osama Bin Laden! It is a reminder that no matter how charismatic, powerful or wealthy a person or a nation becomes, death can still come suddenly - like a thief in the night - and steal away the future  hopes and dreams.
Through the death of Osama Bin Laden, it may be possible eventually to prevent more terrorist attacks, more public, collective deaths. The Western  'way of life' may be a little more secure. Unless of course, the real threat to it lies, as it always has, in our refusal to see, and be changed by, the thousands of silent. hidden, passed-over deaths of the poor and the hungry in our midst.


  1. I think Ground Zero is a very sacred public 'space' ... for the reason that, as you indicated, it is a public reminder that we cannot make our lives 'safe'

    9/11 brought the nation(s) to its knees - people turned back to God, but only in the short term ... and as the events this week are 'happy' to take vengeance into its own hands

    I've been saddened by the rejoicing over BinLaden's death. What he and his 'gang' did was horrible, evil, ... and the surviving relatives of 9/11 still suffer at their hands ... but while the USA might (in places) support the death penalty, I'm not sure most of us in Europe do.

    7/7 in London was a horrible day - but would we want Westminister /MI5-MI6 to wipe out the leader of that plot. I'm not sure. I like to think we would not. On the other hand James Bond IS still our hero ... and isn't that exactly the kind of thing he WOULD do...

  2. Good one Angie! But I am disturbed by the deaths inflicted by the political military machines around the world.The Afghanistan war has to be drawn to a close!Libya, Syria, Egypt wherever... the politics of anger and defensiveness need to be replaced by the politics of compassion and reconciliation!