The non-stop bickering about the Islamic community center and mosque being built at 51 Park Place in New York City, two blocks from the footprint of the fallen World Trade Center towers, has started to remind me of an old Italian funeral.
Italians know what I’m talking about. There’s the pecking order of who gets to grieve the most, the commentary about whose flowers are bigger and better, the wailing for the sake of show, the jockeying for position, all happening under the guise of who loved the deceased more. Oh, the drama.
So, in an effort to take down the drama a notch in my own head, I ventured to Lower Manhattan this week; the mosque-in-progress is less than 30 minutes door-to-door from my home.
As I took the PATH into the World Trade Center, I recalled the first time I rode that train when it finally re-opened months after September 11, 2001. Tears flowed back then, from me as well as some of my fellow passengers, because nothing could have prepared us for being on a train that pulls into that particular chasm. Even seeing a Manhattan skyline view every single day without those towers standing proudly at the tip did not ease me in. Not at all.
Subsequent trips to downtown have helped us all see the healing happening over the years since then. This weekday afternoon, I emerged from the train and found a neighborhood bustling with construction workers, people in suits taking a coffee break, a crowded bus rolling by with a big picture of Mary Poppins across the side, and tourists staring at it all in wonderment.
I took the short walk to the old Burlington Coat Factory and found the block surprisingly quiet given all the hoopla in the media. One Action News van was parked nearby. A police car was stationed out front. But otherwise, it was non-descript. The guy on the corner was selling his produce. People were packed into the Amish Market just steps away. Cafes and pubs were doing brisk business.
I stopped into one of the cafes for some lemonade and to jot down some thoughts. What came pouring out was this conversation between a recently deceased Christian man and St. Peter at the Pearly Gates:
Man: I’ve lived a good life, St. Peter.
St. Peter: Yes.
Man: I even stood up for what I believe in against those Muslims.
St. Peter: Good for you. The ones who flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon?
Man: Well, the ones who wanted to build a monument of triumphalism at Ground Zero.
St. Peter: You mean near the World Trade Center site, the Islamic center a few blocks away?
Man: Yes, that’s the one.
St. Peter: What exactly was their sin?
Man: They killed Americans.
St. Peter: No, actually, they didn’t.
Man: Well, they’re happy about the ones who were killed.
St. Peter: No, actually, they’re not. They’ve been paying the price for the sins of their Muslim brothers who bought into the worst kind of extremism.
Man: But our leaders keep telling us they’re going to use this as a base to plot against us and convert Americans to the Islam faith.
St. Peter: Hmmmm. A few thoughts on that. Is your own religious faith that shaky that it would be threatened so easily? Come now. And, actually, those are not the words of your leaders. They’re the words of people who are hoping to get elected to high office in your country. They are motivated by ego and power, not humanity and peace.
Man: Peace? They attacked us.
St. Peter: Why do you have an ‘us vs. them’ mentality?
Man: Because there are clear sides.
St. Peter: Not to God.
Man: Are you telling me God thinks it’s OK to kill? Isn’t that contradicting the Ten Commandments?
St. Peter: God does not condone killing. He sent his son in a message of peace and treating others with kindness.
Man: Are you saying I was supposed to be kind to people who engineered killing my fellow Americans?
St. Peter: I wasn’t aware you’d met Osama bin Laden.
Man: You know what I mean.
St. Peter: I’m saying God never asked you to settle scores. And by the way, didn’t your country retaliate by going to war? Twice?
Man: Darned right.
St. Peter: Aren’t those wars being fought so Americans can continue to live in freedom and be an example to the world on so many fronts?
St. Peter: So why do you think you are serving God when you misplace your anger and hold grudges that further divide?
Man: St. Peter, I feel so strongly that mosque is a slap in the face to the people who died on 9/11.
St. Peter: You’ve lived a basically good life, but I see your mind is made up on this. Well, instead of conjecturing about those who died that day, why don’t we ask them? Step on through and have a seat at the table …