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Kittredge: Shifting Ground

09/07/11 7:55AM By Susan Cooke Kittredge
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Visit: Remembering 9/11

(HOST) As the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks on 9/11 draws near, commentator Susan Cooke Kittredge is thinking about the meaning of the words "Ground Zero".

(KITTREDGE) The term "Ground Zero" refers to the point on the earth's surface closest to where a major detonation occurred.

The monument in Nagasaki that commemorates the site on which the atom bomb exploded is startling for its simplicity.  In the center, the ground zero of the explosion, stands a black sculpture and radiating out in increasingly wide concentric circles are simple stone pathways, curving around the point of impact.  It speaks of the expanding quality of such a major event and suggests the ripples that have reached the farthest corners of our planet and lives.

Though Ground Zero in Manhattan remained unofficially adorned for ten years, the reverberations from the event have continued to affect our world in both dramatic and subtle ways.

Before that fateful Tuesday, if I had been asked what grounded me, what anchored my life, my answer, I think, would have been different than it is today.  Because for all of us, the ground on which we stand, whether literal or metaphorical has changed.

Though I might not have clearly articulated or admitted it, being born a white Anglo-Saxon protestant in the 20th century bestowed on me a certain assumed entitlement, especially in the United States.  A child of parents from the generation that proudly, if not humbly, called itself the "greatest generation," I was raised with an expectation that the world was my oyster, that I could be or do anything I wanted.

What I would have said with clarity was that my faith grounded me and that my family was my anchor to that faith and the world.  Though this view of my faith has not changed, how I see myself today in relation to the world is markedly different.  No longer do I have an underlying assurance of safety, whether political, financial or social.  Being white now feels a bit like a fresh quart of milk with an expiration date; I know my sweet days have been numbered. 

The ground beneath us has changed and we stand on an altered earth.  We know clearly that our energy policies directly affect our political security; we know that the resources of the planet are finite and that if we continue to exploit them, whole continents of people will suffer disastrous consequences.  We have learned about different faiths and perhaps come to see that it is the practice of our beliefs, how we live in the world rather than why, that will unite rather than separate us.  Though our traditions differ, our common humanity can bring us together if we treat one another with the respect and compassion that is fundamentally called for by all faiths.

We walk on an earth that is in some places cracking from drought while in others drowning in rising water; Tropical Storm Irene drove this home with a rushing fury. Though the events of Sept 11, 2001 were terrifying, my ardent prayer is that the emanating circles of consequence will bring us together, for we all stand on the shifting ground we lovingly call home.

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