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Lange: Sacred Ground

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We’re hearing a lot this week about something called “sacred ground.” But I’m puzzled by what it might be that makes a piece of geography sacred ground – if there even is such a thing. If there is, I’d guess it’s perhaps at Gettysburg or Chancellorsville. Or at Normandy, and under the crosses and Stars of David at Anzio.

I think that “sacred” is not an adjective best applied to buildings, institutions, or places. Instead, it describes actions – actions that bring the human race closer to the fulfillment of the vision we all have in our rational, spiritual moments: of a world finally – and perhaps just in the nick of time – turning its resources to the abolition of deadly divisions and then to pursuit of comity and justice.

Which brings me to September 11, 2001, when suicidal Arab fundamentalists flew hijacked airliners into two symbols of what they deemed the American Empire – the center of its military operations, and two towering temples of commerce.

Since that day the spot now called Ground Zero, and a field in Pennsylvania, have become “sacred ground” for many people – though curiously, it seems that the Pentagon has not. Never mind the Twin Towers were built in an already seedy New York City neighborhood, and the strip clubs, off-track betting parlor, and naughty lingerie shops are still there, even nearer to the memorial site than the Islamic equivalent of a YMCA.

Today, the spot where the Twin Towers once stood is the site of trees, waterfalls, lists of the names of those who died that day, and an enormous new tower. People from all over the country – indeed, all over the world – go there to pay their respects and remember. But it’s not where I’d go to reflect on where I was that morning and how I heard the news.

I have a friend who’s a Hiroshima survivor. Her book about that attack is called One Sunny Day – which is just what it was in Vermont on September 11th. I was at the computer when our daughter called and shouted, “Turn on your TV!” I remember the sun streaming in the living room windows when the second airliner smashed into the South tower. Then I knew.

I spend lots of time outdoors, so you’d think I’d look for “sacred ground” in the natural world, and mark this anniversary on a mountain top. But you’d be wrong.

Americans are largely convinced ours is a “Christian nation” that follows the teachings of “The Prince of Peace.” They mistrust what they perceive as the “militaristic Islamic faith” that inspired the attack. But I dare say few of them have ever opened a Quran, or even seen one.

So instead of seeking “sacred ground” today, I think I’ll aim for “neutral ground,” and spend some time trying to better understand a culture and religion so unlike – and yet like – my own.

Perhaps I’ll even risk hoping that somehow we’ll find a way to avoid another armed conflict in the Middle East.

This is Willem Lange in East Montpelier, and I gotta get back to work.