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Beyond Borders

I was living in Madison, Wisconsin in 2001. My husband and I had moved there from Chicago just a few months prior. On the evening of September 10, I had driven back to Chicago to speak at a local congregation and had slept over at a friend’s house, gotten up early and was half way back to Madison when Wisconsin Public Radio announced that a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers.

I remember pressing down on the accelerator and setting my cruise for well over the speed limit. I wanted to be home with my husband, and it felt as though I could not get there fast enough. A memory ran through my head, a conversation I had with him shortly before we were engaged. “Do you need me for anything?” he had asked. “No,” I responded with a smile, “but I sure like having you around.”  

I listened to the devastating details continue to unfold. The second tower had now been hit as I raced for home. Tears streamed down my face as the commentator relayed the desperate details of people jumping to their deaths. I didn’t want to be alone for this. I needed to be with someone to bear the unfolding of this much tragedy.

The Pentagon had just been hit when I ran through my front door into the arms my husband, sobbing as I uttered my words of confession, “I do need you, I do need you.”

Perhaps that was the greatest shift I saw in a post 9/11 world, a corporate acknowledgement that we needed one another, for rescue, for grief and for rebuilding. No longer did it seem safe to go it alone, we would need one another as we moved forward into this unknown territory of a post 9/11 existence.

Over the decade that has followed I have seen this trend toward dependence continue although the kind of dependence has taken two entirely different tracks. Some have decided that we just need one another, specifically the one anothers that are already in our social spheres. “I need you” in this case means I don’t really need “them” and that we can make the world a safer place if we just stick together with those we already know.

It is my opinion that this trend, although admittedly more comfortable for most, is a dangerous path which will ultimately lead to an increasing number of “thems” that we have to keep at arm’s length, behind borders and on the other side of our stereotypes. I'm not sure this is the safety I'm seeking.

But there is a second path, an entirely different trend toward dependence, one that I have primarily witnessed among my congregation of college students. They have decided that the world will be a safer place when they know the people beyond their borders and when they search beyond the stereotypes that have kept them separate.

Following the sentiments of peace activist Gene Knudsen Hoffman, “An enemy is one whose story we have not heard,” those who follow this path of dependence follow it on a mission towards those who had previously used it to move away from one another.

I must say that both as a pastor and as a fellow traveler with them that I have become utterly convinced by the conviction that carries the students to the ends of the earth rather than causing them to remain hunkered down on their own turf. I still have days where boundaries feel better and stereotypes seem safer but increasingly I find myself bold enough to follow those younger than I toward the hope of hearing the stories of those whom we have not yet met.

Rev. Judy Peterson
Campus Pastor

Next Steps

Read more September 11 Remembrance essays.

Rev. Judy Peterson