September 11 Coda: ‘In the End, It’s about Love’

 September 7, 2011

September 11 Coda: ‘In the End, Its about Love’
By Valerie Schultz – TheBakersfieldCalifornian

The 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01 approaches on loud, unavoidable feet. Subjected to media saturation, it is a day for neither celebration nor belligerence. Many Americans will spend some hours in somber reflection. Ten years is an appropriate occasion on which to look back, look forward, and most of all, look around. Where are we? Where do we hope to be?

Americans remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned that jet planes had crashed first into the World Trade Center towers, and then into the Pentagon, and then into a field in Pennsylvania. It is a morning etched in vivid color in our memories, much like a terrible day inDallasfor those old enough to remember 1963. We remember the shock, the outrage, the fear, the anger, the loss, the mourning.

Those of us who were not personally affected by the tragic deaths can easily imagine that a sibling, a parent, a spouse, a child, a true love, a friend, a neighbor was killed that day in 2001. We can picture ourselves engulfed in that sadness, and the thought fills us with horror. We can imagine how we might have reacted if we had been among the unlucky victims. Would we choose to jump from the doomed upper floors, as some did? Would we choose to storm the cockpit, as some did? We imagine, and we recoil from the image. Then we give thanks that we are still alive, still here on God’s green earth.

Imagine now that, by a terrible quirk of fate, your brother had been attending a one-day conference on Sept. 11 at Windows on the World, the restaurant atop Tower 1. That is Colleen Kelly’s story.

Colleen Kelly did not have to imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one, because she lived the shock and grief that we dread only in imagination. She is being honored today as the recipient of Pax Christi’s 2011 Teacher of Peace Award. After the death of her brother and thousands of others, her faith and her calling to live the Gospel truly prompted her to channel her grief into a constructive, nonviolent response.

In an essay, Kelly shares a lesson she learned from a rabbi named Irwin Kula. The rabbi was struck by reading the news reports of the last words and wishes of the victims of the 9/11 attacks who were able to phone home and who knew they were soon to die. He noticed that the sentiments expressed were unfailingly about love. No one’s last words implored getting back at the terrorists, or exacting revenge. Each person at the door of death had only messages of love. “I love you,” Rabbi Kula read in transcripts, over and over. “Tell the kids I love them.” The most urgent reality, the only thing that mattered, was love. “There’s a time for righteous moral outrage, just as there’s a time for accountability, and justice,” Kelly writes. “But in the end, it’s about love.”

And were not Americans embraced by the love of the global community in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks? Offers of goodwill and sympathy were in the news as we dressed our wounds and expressed our national grief.

And then we attacked another country. And another. In the tradition of “an eye for an eye,” a behavior that Jesus himself repudiated.

Colleen Kelly, although committed to peaceful solutions to world conflicts, understood the reflexive desire for vengeance. She wrestled with the primal urge to get the terrorists back for what they had done to her brother Bill. But the systematic bombing of others, people whose families mourned the devastation and violence in their homeland exactly as she did, did not quiet her heart. Rather, she questioned the motivation, the methods, the ‘just war’ theory, and the overall meeting of violence with violence. The cycle of destruction clearly needed to be broken.

Kelly’s conscience propelled her to found a group called September 11th Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow. The organization’s name is taken from the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “Wars make poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.” Over 200 other family members shared her concern, and have worked, in memory of their perished loved ones, for positive change, for healing, and for good to come of their suffering. In the Pax Christi tradition of “pray, study, act,” they have hosted family members of victims of violence around the world who have chosen a nonviolent response. They visit and support civilians affected by violence. The group espouses the export of dialogue rather than death, and has been nominated twice for the Nobel peace prize. Colleen Kelly is indeed a Teacher of Peace.

On this poignant anniversary, we can ask ourselves: What do we teach? Are we wagers of war, or purveyors of peace? Do we want to be part of the cycle of aggression that knows no peaceful end, or bold ambassadors of nonviolent solutions? Violence that is perpetrated in our names is our responsibility to oppose. Waking up to the commitment to peace is an act of sanity, a labor of love.

As the wise saying goes: If not now, when?

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at

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