Monday, September 19, 2011

NYC -- the Delayed Effect

Sometimes, it doesn't hit you till later...

I can't believe I've been home from New York for almost two weeks.  Time flew while we were there and it continues to fly.  That in itself makes me long for heaven where there is no separation of time from the high points of life, neither memory nor anticipation, but always present.

I expected to be overwhelmed by New York, intimidated by its bigness and bustle.  I grew up in a small town, and have lived in moderately-sized metropolitan areas, whereas my wife is from the big city (not NYC).  How pleasantly surprised I was because, though New York is massive, it is divided into unique and defined areas, each with its own distinct character (SoHo, Midtown, Upper West Side, Lower Manhattan, etc).  Lower Manhattan feels very businesslike  --large, imposing structures, perhaps not all that different from the business sectors of other major cities, except for its notable landmarks.  The World Trade Center site did not move me as I expected it would --not initially.  We were there before the barricades came down and the affecting memorial opened to the public.  It felt very much like a construction zone.

It did move me very much, however, upon reflection.  We visited the week before 9/11 --the tenth anniversary.  As I watched the various commemorations, it dawned on me in a fresh way that I was there --I stood there, on the very scene of the horror.  I cannot imagine what it was like, nor would I ever care to know.  I think it is good both that the WTC is getting back to business (though some of its plan remains to be realized) and that there is such a fitting memorial in the midst of a place where space is so precious.  The thing that affected me most was a special that featured phone messages and conversations from those trapped in the Twin Towers --some of which were their last words on earth.  That I had been there made watching the commemorations all the more moving; it gave a point of identification.  Standing at the WTC site did not feel different than any other place I have visited --which was precisely how the average WTC worker felt when they arrived at work that day.  I imagine that all of them anticipated a normal commute home. Tragedy disrupts the norm and reminds us how broken the world is.

I was surprised how much my whole New York experience had a delayed effect --perhaps it was simply too much to process at the time, and it dawned on me later: standing in the large holding room where so many made their first arrival on these shores (including my great-great grandfather and possibly my great-grandfather), then thinking, if the trains were confusing to me, how it must have been for those who did not speak English.

One thing stuck with me from Ellis Island --a quote by the great former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.  As a very young man, LaGuardia was a multi-lingual translator, working as the mediator between would-be immigrants and US Immigration officials.  LaGuardia said the heart of the translators was with the immigrants, and they would sometimes translate in ways that would be viewed favorably by immigration officials.  Many of them were the children of immigrants and they knew the great risk these people took to get to our shores, and how devastating it was to be sent away.    They were mediators who were on the side of those who stood before the government officials.  That makes me think of Christ.  The INS officials were the representatives of the Law --they ruled according to the code (even though the code now seems ridiculously arbitrary).  The translator was an advocate, a mediator before the harsh fixed reality of the code, but he was not neutral.  He was on the side of the immigrant.  The analogy is not a perfect one, but Christ is not a neutral mediator, either.  He is very much on the side of his people.  He is biased towards us. He loves us and he wants us to gain entrance, so he did everything he could so that we might enter into God's kingdom.  What is more, he prevailed.  

It's Monday and words are difficult, so more to come another day...

1 comment:

  1. KP, having just returned from a family trip to NYC ourselves in July I share many of your feelings. What a strange, vibrant, sublime, disgusting, heart-warming,heart-wrenching place. From the serene Sunday morning stroll along the upper East Side after worship at Redeemer, to the wonderful insanity of Yankee Stadium on the day of Jeter's 3000th hit, to the sheer neon idiocy of Times Square, the uber-cool Village (guitar and record stores on Bleeker!)and yeah, down to the WTC site, its quite a lot for a bunch of bumpkins to take in. I think the most eye opening thing to me, having spent my entire adult life in WASPish southern PCA churches was the incredible diversity of the believers gathered at Redeemer that Sunday, along with the realization that to be a confessing evangelical Christian in NYC really is to be counted quite an odd duck. I'm sure that's not unique to Redeemer or even to NYC, but its good for us good ol' boys to be reminded how the Gospel can and does break across ethnic and other cultural boundaries to unite otherwise very different people in Christ, in settings where its not just part of the ordinary cultural landscape. As for the WTC site, even though walled off by construction barriers I was profoundly moved as I tried to explain to my children what happened on 9/11. Initially I was angry ("religion of peace, huh?"). But as we dodged construction workers returning from their lunch break we found a sculpture on the wall of one of the adjacent buildings paying tribute to the NYPD, FDNY and others who gave their lives that day. I pulled my family around me in front of that wall and tried to pray, for the families, for our country, and for my kids who will grow up in a much different world than the one in which we grew up. All I got out was "Lord.....", followed by silent tears, and a choked "Amen." What an amazing, challenging place NYC must be in which to minister and proclaim the Gospel. And why is it so hard to feel that same excitement and passion for plain old Jackson, MS?
    Look forward to more of your ruminations on your trip.