PBS reran a “Frontline” documentary on the 9/11 aftermath as part of its special programming this week. “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero” is one for you armchair philosophers, or at least Jeff the Mild-Mannered. It’s “Frontline” and public broadcasting at its best, a deep dive into the big questions raised by that day, which all boil down to the biggest one: “Why, God?”
At two hours, it’s a long commitment, but the video online is broken into chapters, which lend themselves to watching in 15-minute chunks. But it takes at least two hours to do what “Frontline” does best, i.e., not settle. The throughlines are a handful of people who lost loved ones that day, and how they integrated the tragedy into their spiritual selves, how they were changed. One woman is still angry and bitter over the loss of her fiancé, and lost her faith over it. Another found it deepened. The climax of the piece comes when two opposing voices consider the most searing images of that day — the jumpers, of course. One says that if you want proof God is a fantasy, look at that, because surely no loving God would throw those innocent souls out the windows of a burning building to die that way. Another says that if you want proof of the divinity within ourselves, look at the people who jumped, holding hands, to give comfort to one another in the final seconds of life. The whole passage is set to Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which was a bit much, but then again, if there’s ever been a time to use it, that’s the montage.
It all left me with the feeling that if we doubt that God is created in our image, here’s a nice bit of video evidence. I was struck by the remarks of a Lutheran minister who participated in the first healing service at Yankee Stadium, the one that featured clergy of all faiths, Christian and otherwise, even Islam, who joined hands to pray in a moment of spiritual solidarity. In the insanity of the aftermath, it could look, depending on your point of view, like everything from kum-ba-ya multiculti mush to a statement of our strength as a nation to something else. This particular minister got the something else — letters from his fellow Lutherans, calling him out for daring to stand on a stage with other religious leaders and present the dangerous heresy that they might be legitimate, too. They called for his collar.
It reminded me of the moment in my own newsroom, when a staffer offered an op-ed that said that very thing, more or less, a sentiment that would likely have gone over like gangbusters in Fort Wayne. The editor-in-chief put his foot down, however, and spiked it, earning the Strange New Respect Award from me, a moment that said, OK, this bullshit stops here. No Lutherans are flying planes into buildings, but if you can’t see the parallels with Islamist radicalism, I direct you to chapter 5 of “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero.”
Watching those images of the interfaith service now, I’m heartened, the same way I was watching Jon Stewart’s post-9/11 monologue, where he said, “I grieve, but I do not despair.” We have better angels, and sometimes we get in touch with them.
Which seems a good turning point to the bloggage, because we start out with a bad fairy, from where else, Fox Sports! This is recommended, particularly for you Californians. I don’t get the point of the piece — seek out Asian students at USC who know nothing about football, because they’re such nose-to-the-grindstone types, bent on destroying grade curves everywhere, and get them to deliver highly accented wercomes to new Pac 10 members, Cororado and Utah. Is this funny? As the colleague who sent this to me noted:
I’m just dumbfounded. TV networks don’t just throw anything on the air. They discuss stories in meetings, they plan them and review them. Who on earth said let’s go target only Asians with a poor grasp of English, take advantage of that deficiency and then make fun of them on national television? Astounding.
There are teachers and students who think flexibility is some kind of indication of how good a person you are. While we certainly hold tension, trauma and rigidity in our limbs and joints and muscles, there is no reason to imagine there’s some absolutely direct correlation between how well we can move and how functional or healthy our mind is. I seriously doubt that Albert Einstein or Susan Sontag had less flexible minds than, I don’t know, Rodney Yee. My point is, some physical limitations can be aided through the practice of yoga and some can’t and no one needs the increased pressure of someone telling them, every time they strain to get their heels on the floor in Downward Facing Dog, that this is because their mind is all screwed up.
So if your teacher tells you that we hold a lot of stuff in our hips and hamstrings and as we begin to let this stuff go and become our authentic selves we will be able to wrap our arms around ourselves eight times, look around the room. You will probably see a guy who can do that, while smiling, and I’ll bet that you will eventually hear from someone in the class about the time he flew into a rage and broke a car window.
And with that, I’m off to take advantage of a temporary break in the rain to get a bike ride in. Happy weekend, all.