The 9/11 Memorial is a deep chasm with falling water. Walking towards where the towers stood I didn’t get the impression of it being significant. In fact around the Memorial was a festive park like atmosphere, much like the rest of New York City, filled with tourists from all around the world. I snaked my way through these crowds. I wanted to stake out my place, remember and reflect, burn a little incense because thats the cultural thing to do.
But there is no place of solitude, which is my overall New York City realization. So I made do, moving with the flow of tourists around the the black stone boundary marking a break in the concrete pavement, identifying where the Twin Towers rose. Except this stone boundary rose to my waist and seemed to run on like any other raised bed for vegetation, except here the sun shone down and mist rose up out of the black bed. This was my first stop in New York City, and I had yet to grasp how you manage large crowds of humans.
I tried really hard to read all the names inscribed on the walls. I tried really hard to take it all in. This place, thousands of miles away from me, impacted my life fourteen years ago in a way that no other event had. Yet, writing a reflection about my visit, which was made possible by Union Theological Seminary’s summer Millennial Leadership Program for faith activists, all I can think of is time.
Has it really been fourteen years?
I recently began reading Robert Prisig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. It was one of the two books I had taken with me to Central America this summer. I, for some reason I can’t fathom now, thought it would be a easy read. But Prisig is deep in ways that just astound my mind. I bring this up here because Prisig delves into time when discussing Hume and Kant.
Prisig relates that Kant was trying to save scientific empiricism from the consequences of its own self-devouring logic. A conundrum that Hume had set up when he argued that all knowledge is derived from senses, and that these experiences and evidence create thoughts, so that reasoning alone was not the source of understanding of the world. Hume was an empiricist in this sense, yet following his logic meant that the nature of substance itself did not exist because you can’t feel, touch, smell, see it. What is “it”? This is where time comes in to this post on 9/11, it is an example- does time exist if we believe that human experience dictates what we know?
We can’t give the substance of time a description based on our sensory experience with it, therefore, we just know from our data that its been fourteen years since the events of 9/11. But if we were to apply Humes absurd experiencial genesis of thought, time couldn’t exist, just like gravity wouldn’t exist or space for that matter. These particular examples come to us based on the collection of data and facts, formed and manipulated into human understanding as concepts with “natural laws.” This is what Kant was trying to save, these data constructs he referred to as a priori.
Kant states, “although all our cognition begins with experience, it does not follow that it arises from experience.” He was trying to combine the rational with the empirical, so that through this construct- time, gravity, and space- exist outside of our heads without the requirement of sensory experience They are a constant that don’t require our senses to experience substantively.
For this purpose, time is an intuition that the mind puts together through data- in this instance the passage, changes we see in ourselves and nature of, the fact that its been fourteen years since 9/11 are all things that occurred whether or not we can comprehend it through our experience. Has it really been fourteen years? Yes, yes it has.
Time is an altitude of thought miles above my head
I am not the sort of person who likes to dwell at this altitude of thinking. But being at the 9/11 Memorial, time became a thing that I couldn’t comprehend. I kept asking myself, how had fourteen years gone by? What were the things that mattered on September 10, 2001, that were discarded in the hours after that morning on September 11, 2001?
Time is one of those things that really trips me up. We were at Grand Canyon, where there is a part of the South Rim trail that is called the Trail of Time. It was something I found myself completely befuddled by. I couldn’t imagine what I was seeing and the time associated with it. I kept reciting to myself the Quranic chapter on time- By time; verily, man is in loss. Except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and recommend one another to the truth and recommend one another to patience.”
God is the creator of time, Muslims are warned by the Prophet Muhammad, so don’t swear or curse time. In fact, God suggests to humans that time is one of the primary favors that is bestowed on humanity, that we forget to take account of. When we stand in front of God on the Day of Judgement our time on Earth, all of it, will seem like it was less than a day (Quran 18:19). Imagine the time warp, it truly is something I have difficultly comprehending.
Just take a gander at Einsteins Theory of Relativity, time is not as absolute as we have perceived it to be Einstein posits, influenced by Hume (SEE ABOVE). In order to remove physicists out of the rut on where gravity came from and the silly notion of luminiferous aether, a substance of some source that made up space, Einstein approached time from he perspective that it is relative. In fact, Einstein argues that time does not pass at the same rate for everyone. This particular phenomenon is referred to as time dilation, where an observer on a fast-moving object would measure time passing more slowly than a relatively stationary observer would.
Its time to feed the hunger
Time isn’t above human comprehension, but within that comprehension Islam reminds me that it is something I am held accountable for and also something that belongs to God. I can allow myself to get profoundly lost. But I realize that I am not lost by time as a concept, its the accountability of time that concerns me at this moment. What have I, what have we done with this time?
Over the years I think what I most crave around this time of the year is how American Muslims need to have a longer discussion on the meaning and impact of September 11th on the Muslim identity, and more crucially our view of the world and our place in it, especially here in the United States. It never manifested itself as a full thought, but there it is, an actually articulable thought.
I am hungry for a longer discussion, not the lobby discussion we have between convention events; not the conversations we hear our Imams and leaders having; and, for sure, not the causal living room debates. What we need are sit down sessions, intentional and probing. We need discussion that brings in diversity of experiences. We need this to be pooled together across the country into something that helps present the American Muslim experience at the crossroads of a generation that grew up under the immediate trauma of 9/11 and a community that is vigorously defining what it means to be an American Muslim.
I think this is a unique opportunity. And I hope that we are able to take it and make something out of it. We haven’t quite enough time digesting this aspect of our experience. Partly because we live in the post-9/11 trauma, and partly because we probably are still trying to make sense of all that has happened. But fourteen years, that seems like a good period of time to allow for experiences to settle and for ideas and thoughts to construct themselves.
I am no expert of Philosophy, and certainly not physics. But I am a willing and able student, so please direct me in any misunderstanding I may of based on what I wrote here. Appreciate it in advance!