While working on a post for 9/11 last night, I came across this letter I wrote from London to Montecito Covenant Church on September 16, 2001. I’ve posted it in other places before, but it bears repeating as we head into this weekend…
I left for London in August hoping for nothing less than a life changing experience. Like any other student who goes abroad to study, I left home with many expectations for myself as well as for my host country. I expected to learn and grow and change and return home in January with added perspective. I expected to be treated kindly, rudely and everything in between by the British public. What I didn’t expect, what I couldn’t expect, was to find myself being comforted by these people.
Dealing with grief in the wake of this tragedy is hard to do at home. But I’m not at home. I’m on the other side of the Atlantic without American television, without American newspapers, and without American churches. I’m looking in from the outside, feeling so helpless and so very, very far away. Fortunately, I find myself in a country with people who, over the past week, have shown nothing but respect, admiration and deep, deep sympathy for their American friends.
I was moved to tears when I learned that the Queen of England requested that a special changing of the guard ceremony take place in honor of the Americans who have died, and out of respect for all who must carry on. The playing of the American National Anthem, followed by a two-minute silence, was a much appreciated gesture that was tasteful, tender and filled with such unexpected grace.
The same held true at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Friday as I stood outside with thousands of Londoners and fellow Americans who came united in faith to grieve for our country. With heavy hearts and watery eyes, we again sang the Star Spangled Banner, a moment so poignant that the Queen found herself doing something she has never done before – singing the anthem of another nation.
With my hand on my heart, I almost forgot I was in England.
And then there is the American Embassy – a place showered with flowers and an endless line of people waiting patiently to sign a book of condolences opened by Prince Charles. This area of London is known as “Little America,” and the sincerity of the crowd is truly touching.
It is evident that Britain has faith in the resilience and character of the American people. They share in our pain without relinquishing their hope that we will stand tall and make the democracy-believing countries of this world exceedingly proud.
They support us, they believe in us and they are ready and willing to extend helping hands to those of us who find ourselves here and to those of you who wrestle with this pain on American soil.
A reporter from London’s Evening Standard put it nicely when he said, “We know that grief, like terror itself, is a repelling magnet. It is one that sympathy must overcome. I have no doubt that what New Yorkers most want now is the warm hand of friendship. Let us make New York our first port of call.”
Montecito Covenant, your pain extends beyond America’s borders and, by God’s grace, so does your hope in all that is still good and radiant and true in this world.
Peace be with you,