Saturday, September 11, 2004

American Healing

Today is the third anniversary of our collective awareness of our vulnerability...of the day we realized that our beloved country is part of the mortal world and not a mythic land with special protection by the forces of Good from harm.

The reality was a horrible shock. It still hurts to view film of the second plane flying into the World Trade Center tower. The pain is searing to watch and hear the towers crumbling to the ground. Of course, we grieve for the 3,000 lives lost that day. But we've grieved other massive loss of lives, and eventually moved on, national mental health intact.

We grieved more than lost lives on September 11. We grieved...we continue to grieve...that our nation is not above the rest of the world. We feel personally violated that our country was attacked, rather like a woman must feel after rape. We continue to be incensed that the American Way is not universally admired. Many rage that Islamic radicals don't comprehend the Essential Goodness and Rightness of the US view of the world.

John Kennedy, Jr never perceived his vulnerability to misread the grey horizon of a cloudy sunset. He assumed he was above making pilot errors. As a result of his aviation arrogance, he flew his plane to the bottom of the cold Atlantic Ocean.

I spent a few weeks on business in the Philippines in 1986. It was my first extended trip to a third world country, and only trip to a country long torn by violent insurgency. In the Makati, which is an affluent area of Manila, all homes had surrounding walls and security entrances. No winding driveways, flowered yards or knockable front doors. Armed guards stood in shopping centers and patrolled the roadsides. Life went on, though. War is an event. This was a permanent heightened state of alert, not an event. A new way of life, conscious of realities.

I was there with four other Americans to teach a company training course to several hundred young Thai and Fillipino accountants. We taught the two-week course at a campus built by former President Marcos outside Manila. The well-appointed site was set in lush tropical countryside, graced with frothy palm trees waving in warm trade breezes.

And a barbed wire, electrified fence. The five of us were told to enjoy ourselves. Just one thing...don't go outside that fence. If you do, we can't guarantee your safety.

We were vulnerable outside our isolated oasis. (Looking back, we were probably vulnerable inside our oasis.) Our hosts penetrated our American veneer of arrogance, and awakened us to common vulnerability. We were not made untouchable by a magical aura of Betterness. Our self-righteousness would not protect us from harm.

In fact, it can lead to our downfall. It can lead us to step outside the fence and be kidnapped. It can lead us to fly to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. And it can lead a nation to disrespect, abuse and exploit other cultures and countries.

Today, as we grieve the terrible events of September 11, 2001, we have every right to feel violated and angry over the loss of life and property, over the horrific disruption of our lives and economy.

But it's also time to stand back and examine our own attitudes. How did we help fuel the anger of the attackers? Why does the entire world, including all longtime US allies, believe that our arrogance contributed to our problems today? It's time to take responsibility for our self-righteous snobbery in regard to other countries, other cultures, other peoples.

Our country will heal and move forward in wise humility from our present national state of paranoia, self-pitying rage and hatred of others different from us only when we accept in our hearts that "God so loved the world," (John 3:16), not just the United States.

We will collectively heal when we start examining the plank in our eye. Yes, three years ago, attackers murdered 3,000 people on our soil. Did you know that on August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb we dropped on Hiroshima, Japan instantly killed 80,000 people, and that another 60,000 died within months from related injuries? 140,000 mothers and fathers, children, friends, co-workers, loved ones...just like the 3,000 we lost.

"How can you say to your brother 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck in your brother's eye." (Luke 6:42)

And in response to the evil attacks three years ago, we would do well to remember the sacred words....

"Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay' says the Lord. On the contrary: 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:17-21)

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