Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Reflections On 9/11: A Choice Between Fear & Love

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks approached and then came to pass, I found myself avoiding most of the coverage of the occasion. There are only so many times you can watch planes flying into office towers and people jumping from windows before becoming either numb or desensitized to it. This is why I rarely watch an entire newscast at night when I sit down to catch Peter Mansbridge on CBC's The National (sorry Lisa Laflamme). Inevitably the first five stories are about war, famine, disease, murder, or a local car crash. Perhaps the main reason I don't like to watch or read about such news in depth is because I believe the negativity of it all can affect a person. I'm not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand and be uninformed, but do we need to spend hour upon hour delving into every angle of a tragedy?

The minister of my spiritual centre, Unity Kitchener, is an American and gave a meaningful reflection on the anniversary before ending on a note of optimism.

How has the world changed since September 11, 2001? I can't speak for the entire world, but from my observations, 9/11 brought about much fear and anger. Now, perhaps some of the anger has subsided in these 10 years, but I think there is still a lot of fear. Even more striking is how our hearts or consciousness have, in a way, closed in on themselves.

People became suspicious whenever they boarded a plane.

People crossed the street to avoid the woman wearing a burqa.

People objected to mosques being built in certain locations.

A "pastor" in Florida threatened to burn the Qu'ran.

To their credit, in the direct aftermath of the tragedies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, Republican and Democratic politicians set aside their partisanship briefly and stood on the steps of the Capitol building, breaking out in a rendition of "God Bless America." Americans as a whole came together in solidarity. In an important move, President George W. Bush visited a mosque and emphasized that America's retaliation would not be against Islam, but those who attacked his country.
(His subsequent actions cost thousands of innocent lives, but that's for another blog entry.)

Since America's darkest day, we have seen attacks in England, Bali, Madrid, Mumbai. Some of these have been related to Al Qaeda, some not.

I have two thoughts:

1) After facing a tragedy on either a national or even personal scale, we have a choice. Yes, we will initially feel pain, perhaps deep pain and shock. But there comes a time when we have to choose whether we will live the rest of our lives in fear, anger, and resentment against those who have wronged us, or whether we will walk into something else. That something is forgiveness. Some victims of horrific crimes say that they will never forgive their perpetrators and that they deserve to "burn in Hell." An eye for an eye, they say. But what does such thinking accomplish? Unforgiveness and bitterness does not serve to hurt those who have wronged us; instead they serve to make our own lives miserable. We carry it around like a boulder on our backs, sometimes for years. Still others say that they forgive the person(s) that have wronged them, but they will have nothing to do with them ever again. Now, this may absolutely be the necessary thing to do if there is legitimate risk that the person may again cause harm. But how many times do we completely cut off friends or family members instead of reaching out to them? My point is that forgiveness may not only be a set of words that we spout off: "I forgive them." Forgiveness may be an action. Instead of holding bitterness or remaining fearful, we can make a choice that is sometimes very very hard: we can love those who we feel have wronged us. This not only has an effect on the other person, but it sets a part of our soul free.

2) Why do these awful attacks keep happening? Clearly it is not enough to be reactionary - "We're gonna go and get the bad guys now!" Conflicts between people of varying religious beliefs, cultures, and geographical locations will continue to mar our earth until enough of us start reaching out to people who do not look like us, believe like us, or have the same customs as us. It is our ongoing false belief in our separation from others that causes us to be able to say "my way of life or my beliefs are better," and "there's something wrong with those other people." However, if we see all citizens of our planet - black, white, Jews, Christians, Muslims, atheists, gay, straight, as essentially a united family, things start to change. Differences can become enriching and fascinating rather than a reason to set apart and reject. Again, this attitude, this love must be active. It's one thing to say "I accept people of all backgrounds and faiths." It's quite another to make an effort to make friends with the new immigrant family that just moved into your apartment building. I will be the first admit that I have a long way to go with this.

In conclusion, when we are hurt, as a nation or individually, we always have a choice. Will we withdraw in fear and hatred? Or will we actively choose to forgive those who have harmed us? And what can we do to foster peace in our families, in our communities, in our world? Let us start to find active, tangible ways to love our neighbours - whatever they look like or believe - and in doing so we will start to see positive change and an increase in peace and love which we all crave.

Mark Andrew Alward