The poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote that we should let everything happen to us: beauty and terror. On September 11, 2001, Americans clearly entered that experience of the world through the terror of death and destruction and the absolute beauty of those who never forgot what it means to love. Among the many lessons, these stand out for me:
Grieve with Clarity: Mourn for the thousands who died or were injured. Mourn the death of a belief in an untouchable America, but take care not to confuse those feelings with unresolved sadness, anger or fear stemming from situations in your personal life that occurred well before 9/11/01. If your emotional response to the attack was or continues to be strong, don’t allow that energy to mutate into paranoia, depression or hate. Seek professional counseling. Through self-examination you can build an internal life that seeks to remain peaceful even in the face of crisis. Trust serves the Divine, our Eastern neighbors and the future.
After Grief, Understanding: The 9/11 attack followed threats of rolling blackouts and water shortages, the norm for many people elsewhere in the world. So this moment may stand in history, not only because of destruction, but also because it catapulted the U.S. into equality with its neighbors worldwide. We are being invited to live as one.
Advocate Responsibility, not Revenge: It’s the 21st century. Shouldn’t “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” be ancient history? Be radical and practice the higher calling of holding only the people involved in the 9/11 attack responsible—after we are absolutely certain who they are.
Respect War: The word “war” (like love or truth) is tossed about casually in the ad campaign mentality of American culture, but war is battle, brutality, death, economic blockades and embargoes. If you advocate war, be willing to be responsible for the loss of many more lives and to carry blood on your hands forever.
Accept the Invitation into Prayer: The 9/11 attacks returned many Americans to a Sabbath and religious services. If you created time in your schedule for prayer and worship, don’t slip back into complacency. Keep that weekly worship date with your community and continue taking every concern to daily prayer.
Insist on True Leadership: As the Tao Te Ching says, “For governing a country well, there is nothing better than moderation. The mark of a moderate man is freedom from his own ideas. … Nothing is impossible for him. Because he has let go, he can care for the people’s welfare as a mother cares for her child.” Advance the cause of sanity by speaking out against hate disguised as political rhetoric.
Hold the Media Accountable: Don’t allow your emotions to be pulled like taffy from sadness to fear or from anger to rage when listening to news. You’ll become addicted to the emotional drama while thinking you’re catching facts. Insist on in-depth, professional, objective reporting.
Hold Yourself Accountable: If any tendency toward racial profiling arises in you, seek professional counseling. There is nothing spiritual about hate.
Live Sacramental Awareness: See the deeper reality of holiness in every being and every experience. Be so present in every moment that your life is always complete.