“All politics is local” is a phrase ascribed to the late Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill. It has served for decades now as an important reminder to politicians of their first priority—that is, their first priority is their constituency. But I am not writing today about politics. Instead, I am co-opting Speaker O’Neill’s timeless quote—and rewording it—for another (and I believe greater) purpose. Here is what I submit: “All suffering, or at least the majority of it, is local.” You may wonder where this is all coming from on such an auspicious day in our nation’s history, and you are right to wonder. Honestly, I did not intend to write anything today for this blog. I intended to finish some school work (which I have now finished), spend some time with my family (since we are together, thanks to Irma-induced school closings), and enjoy an “inside day.” Yet I cannot stop thinking about a young man named Evan Carter. But I’ll return to Evan in just a moment.
Listening to the radio in my car this morning (I needed to take it to the shop for an interesting malfunction), I heard a lot of discussion about that fateful Tuesday sixteen years ago today. More than that, I heard what I thought was a very-well-done narrative in which God was reminding us of his presence on that day (despite the fact that many of us, if not most of us, were experiencing great doubt). That narrative moved me, and I was led to recall my own feelings and emotions on that terrible day. As for me, I learned of the tragedy of 9-11-2001 when I arrived at the Burnt Hickory Church of Christ to pick up my oldest from preschool (he’s almost 21 now . . .). The church staff there, all of whom I knew very well, grabbed me and asked me to come pray with them—something terrible had happened. I went with them, of course, and soon learned of the evil that was unfolding. Needless to say, like everyone else, I was in shock and disbelief. It was a day unlike any other day in our history—at least as far as I could recall.
September 11, 2016 was the fifteenth anniversary of that day—a day that changed our country and our world in many, many ways. September 11, 2016 is also the day—more specifically, the Sunday morning—when 18-year-old Evan Carter was riding his motorcycle down the road outside my neighborhood. This is a path that I imagine Evan took on a regular basis. On that Sunday morning, however, Evan collided with a car pulling out of my neighborhood. Head on. And Evan died as a result. It was a terrible, terrible tragedy. I will never forget the call from my wife telling me that she and the boys likely would not make it to church services that morning because they could not get out of the neighborhood. I can recall even today the emotion and concern in her voice (our boys are all in that same age range, of course). She’s a mom, and a mom of boys no less. Both she and I were thinking the same thing, I am sure (though unspoken): what if we had to deal with what these poor folks are about to have to deal with?
I never met Evan Carter. In fact, the only reason I know his name (and also now his face) is because of that tragedy. Every time we leave our neighborhood, we look at the well-placed memorial to Evan, and it reminds us of that day. Yet that reminder pales in comparison to what his parents and the rest of his family and friends must be suffering. You see, today most of our nation remembers this mass event that happened to “us.” This is a good thing for us to do. But I cannot help but think that for Mr. and Mrs. Carter, for their parents, and for any siblings and friends of Evan’s, that today holds for them a very different remembrance. I am confident that the Carters maintain a recollection of what happened on 9-11-2001. But I am certain that that event pales in comparison to what occurred on 9-11-2016. God bless them and keep them in his loving care.
I write this primarily so that all of us will think long and hard about the fact that suffering is primarily local. There are people right next to us, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in the places we shop and work, who are suffering. And that suffering is likely not the same as ours. It is usually not corporate, but personal. It is something that they bear alone, or in a very small community. We do well to think on this, and to be sensitive to the struggles of others.