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Phone Messages to Loved Ones Before the Towers Fell

The building was on fire and there was no way down the stairs. She was calling to say goodbye. There was really only one thing for her to say, those three words that all the terrible art, the worst pop songs and movies, the most seductive lies, can somehow never cheapen. I love you.

She said it over and again before the line went dead. And that is what they were all saying down their phones, from the hijacked planes and the burning towers. There is only love, and then oblivion. Love was all they had to set against the hatred of their murderers.

-- Ian McEwan's op-ed in the Guardian UK on September 15, 2001

British noveist Ian McEwan wrote this essay soon after reflecting on those extraordinary messages left for their loved ones by the victims all saying "I love you." In those terrifying days right after the Towers fell, I looked for guidance on how to understand what just happened. Reading this essay helped me to understand not only 9/11, but something important about life.

The simplicity of the truth stunned me: In the end, love is what matters.

Instead of being consumed by fear in the last moments of her life, this woman -- the caller, the victim -- was consumed by love. When we fear death and destruction, love is what gives us strength as individuals.

When we need to summon courage for a dangerous operation or to pull ourselves together after we get into a car accident, we think of the ones we love and want to talk to them. We don't think of the ones we hate. Hate doesn't give us the strength to live.

Imagine a whole society consumed by hate. All too well, we can imagine this. Now imagine a whole society consumed by love. It's much harder to imagine.

So, why do we indulge in hate when it weakens us as individuals and a society? There is an illusion of power when we hate, when are we are angry. There is a burst of energy when chemicals are released into our brains that we mistake for power. We also feel a sense of unity and camaraderie with our fellow haters. We don't feel so alone when there is organized hatred. We feel like we are part of a group. But it is a bond that ultimately weakens us as individuals.

Imagine the same bond based on mutual love, not mutual hate.

Let's again try to imagine a society driven by love for humanity and country. By compassion for those suffering. To want to care for people who need care. Whether they are breathing in toxic chemicals in the Gulf, trapped in a mine is Chile, displaced and hungry in Pakistan, still homeless in Haiti or unemployed in Rockford, IL. Yes, it makes us cringe. It's painful to care when we feel that there is little we can do to help.

But think of the trapped miners in Chile. Knowing, that the world is watching and their loved ones are holding vigil in a make-shift tent just above and not leaving them, strengthens the miners. They know that they matter, that they are loved, that around the world, we care. This mutual situation of concern and love makes the miners stronger. It strengthens us as well to see the awesome resilience of the human spirit.

Love strengthens us. Hate weakens us. For at least today, let's imagine a world driven by the politics of love, not hate.

 



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