Do You Remember 9/11… and 8/4?

by | Aug 14, 2020 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

Where were you 8/4/2020? Most adults in the United States can tell you where they were and what they were doing that fateful morning of 9/11.

Even though it was nearly 20 years ago, most can recall, and even perhaps relive their emotions as the events unfolded on national TV. I remember receiving a call from a close friend who said “Turn on your TV, something terrible is happening.” I remember as the second tower fell reports came in that this was no accident. In horror, I said out loud to myself, “The world will never be the same!”

Fast forward to 8/4/2020. I heard the news of a horrific explosion in Beirut. The damage from this event boggled the mind in a different way. We are all familiar with the damages of 9/11. But I am having trouble wrapping my head around the report that the explosion on 8/4 is estimated to leave 300,000 people homeless.

Certainly, I felt strong feelings, but it was not the same. I doubt whether I will ever forget the images of 9/11. But I expect that 8/4 will be seared into the minds of every person in Lebanon. Yet, with all that is going on in our world, Beirut is almost already forgotten in media. The further away we are, in distance or time, from suffering the easier it is to forge ahead.

Why the difference?

I think the difference lies in the fact that 9/11 hit closer to home and touched my life more immediately.

The difference also got me thinking about a range of emotions… pity, sympathy, empathy, and compassion. There are probably many more precise ways to define them but for my purposes:

  • Pity – I acknowledge your suffering
  • Sympathy – I care about your suffering
  • Empathy – I feel your suffering
  • Compassion – I want to relieve your suffering

These definitions are not mutually exclusive. I remember hearing of a woman who looked out a widow from her workplace across the river seeing the second tower collapsing. She knew that her husband worked there. As I thought of her situation, 911 became even more personal. I quickly ran the gamut of all these feelings.

These reactions carry with them different levels of engagement… from observer through to responder.

Vincentians and Compassion

The Lebanese Vincentian Family sprang into compassionate action right after the blast that devastated the city on August 4th, sheltering some of the 300,000 new homeless, taking care of the poorest, healing the wounded, and feeding the needy.

As Vincentians, we encounter all kinds of suffering. What does our another’s suffering trigger in us?

I suspect that the reactions that dominate will depend on our level of encounter.

Vincent, Frederick, and so many others insist that we experience directly the sufferings of people who are poor.

Vincent became a master storyteller of their sufferings. I think his awareness of their sufferings led him to effective compassion and a lifelong mission to relieve their suffering.

Is that why Pope Francis is constantly urging us to encounter one another? Understanding and action flow from true encounter.


  • What level of personal encounter do I have with others who are suffering?
  • When an “explosion” hits their lives do I move from pity to compassion?

This post first appeared on Vincentian Mindwalk.

1 Comment

  1. Ross

    “Do you remember …? … Beirut is almost already forgotten in media. The further away we are, in distance or time, from suffering the easier it is to forge ahead.”

    Hence, the importance of guarding against seemingly harmless “plain forgetfulness” (Tom McKenna in Hence, the importance of Jesus’ “Do this in remembrance of me,” and of St. Vincent’s, “Remember that we live in Jesus Christ ….”

    Re-member, that is, “It” becoming part of us, or in Larry Huber’s words ( “we become part of the situation – our experience mingles with theirs. Together, we can come to recognize Christ in each other through our own unique brokenness.”