Musings Post 9/11/01

posted November 11, 2004

I am putting together a curriculum for an on line class called Journaling for Peace. After the Great Computer Crash of October Oh Four, I had to do some archeology of my own, sifting through old CDs of burned information to see what remained of my previous thoughts. I came across this peace, which seemed relevant.

Written October 2001:

I found it physically impossible to watch more than about three minutes of TV a day for the past few weeks. I think the human brain is not equipped to handle the information we were bombarded with day after day, or more like hour after hour. Yet like others, I found it strangely compelling, as if the watching of it would render it unreal, like the footage of Independence Day I’d thought it was when I first saw it. When I heard that the footage of the Palestinian kids dancing in the street that was shown ad nauseum on CNN was actually taken in 1991, I gave up on the commercial media. Since then, I’ve gleaned almost all of my information via the internet.

Dar pointed out to me that we really have to see the reaction to Sept. 11 as a victory for our own increased understanding of the complexities of cultures, religions, those who do things differently from the “traditional American family.” We have a new awareness that we CAN’T use violence to end violence. We now understand that the people of Asia are people we or our good friends have visited, lived with, learned from. That so many of us received countless versions of a petition awakening us to the horrors inflicted on Afghani women by the Taliban. We already knew that bombing Afghanistan back to the stone age, as some Bush officials suggested in those first terrifying hours after the bombings would only shuffle the rubble around.

Like many people, I am angry. Sometimes it’s hard to know with whom I am angry. Sometimes I’m angry with the unknown terrorists and sometimes I’m angry with the USA for being so rich and careless and cruel to the rest of the world. When something like this happens; when one is hurt, one gets angry. That’s a natural reaction.

I am a pacifist. And I think one of the greatest mistakes of the pacifist movement had made is to show a face of anger towards this country, its government, its people. It is easy to dismiss me when I am so angry that my face is contorted. It’s easy to dismiss me when I’m chanting slogans. It’s easy to dismiss me if I look like a freak. It’s much harder to dismiss calm, reasoned individuals who have gathered together to gently suggest-or even insist on-peace.

We are the luckiest people on earth to be born to this land of plenty and opportunity. I believe it’s our responsibility to share our good fortune with each other and the rest of the world’s population.

I can’t believe it’s God’s will that thousands of people died. I can’t believe it’s God’s will that Israel should be covered in blood. The acts on Sept. 11 were the acts of people who believed they were doing God’s will. Theological questions are at the center of this. Once again, I am reminded that every issue and question at its core is a spiritual issue or question.

We should respond carefully and thoughtfully. It is not effective to kill a mosquito with an AKG. What is the point of bombing a country where the women are so disempowered they are not even allowed to show their noses? We should pray for our leaders and we should pray for the movement that sent these terrorists. We are all one. I certainly didn’t vote for George W. Bush, and I am no fan of his. But if he brings peace—true peace—-no one will be more grateful or more supportive than I.

Like all of you, I’ve been shocked and depressed and confused. But what’s true for me always is true for me today. True North is smiling at people I pass on the street, keeping in touch with my family and friends, being grateful for the beautiful cloudbank over the Connecticut river at 7am, walking my dog through the cornfields down by the river and watching her hop over the squash vines. Rubbing her ears even if I’m so stressed that I see her innocent ignorant puppiness as irritating rather than winsome. Fearing the worst will not make your last days on earth happy ones. Not that these are the last days on earth, but if they were to be, I’d rather spend them laughing and dancing than frozen in fetal position in my closet. The Dalai Lama said:

“The Chinese took my homeland, burned our monasteries and killed our families. Am I to let them take my happiness and serenity too?”

Which isn’t to say that I am taking my own advice (as usual). I am fearful as the next one. Katryna and I have been convinced that no one is ever going to come out and see live music ever again and that we will starve and Amelia will have to eat grasshoppers. But ke garne as they say in Nepal: what can you do? You can make a record. You can take the golden opportunity handed to you by the gods and by Rounder Records to put something down on shiny CD to remember this time in your life. You can keep a journal and hope that some of it makes sense so you can read the not-too-personal portions of it aloud to your descendants (assuming once again that the world isn’t going to end, that is). You can laugh when your sister sticks her tongue out sideways, points her knee in the direction of the door and pretends to hold a baton horizontally and then makes like Fred Flintstone into the vocal booth at the studio. You can rejoice as the four month old baby smiles her curly grin at everyone she encounters, not knowing anything at all about airplanes, terrorists, diets, the stock market, smart bombs or even diplomacy. She just knows that it feels good to be held and kissed; that it’s really fun to roll over even though it requires a lot of effort and grunting, and that every day has something so fascinating that the most compelling thing to do is just to watch it go by, and when you get the chance, reach out your hand and try to touch it.

“We must be the change we want to see in the world.”-Gandhi

“The practice of peace and reconciliation is the most vital and artistic of human activities.”-Thich Nhat Hanh

The Comments

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  1. Thanks, Nerissa. That gave me chills…I often think about my reaction to that day…how numbing it was to be 3000 miles away from all my friends and family, watching buildings fall that could be seen from my NJ town…buildings I’d taken the train into countless times. The horror of wondering if my family, particularly my father, was safe and the relief and joy in finding out they were safe…but bittersweet for those friends who were not so lucky.

    This paragraph particularly just makes me think…and pray…that one day, we will get there…

    “I am a pacifist. And I think one of the greatest mistakes of the pacifist movement had made is to show a face of anger towards this country, its government, its people. It is easy to dismiss me when I am so angry that my face is contorted. It’s easy to dismiss me when I’m chanting slogans. It’s easy to dismiss me if I look like a freak. It’s much harder to dismiss calm, reasoned individuals who have gathered together to gently suggest-or even insist on-peace.”

    I look forward to journaling for peace with you and others.

    I will not let GWB steal and contort my country or my God.

    Pax et amor,

  2. I wish I could be a pacifist. I admire such people, but I’m not able to be like all of the people I admire. The desire to redress injustice leaves me in a less peaceful state than I would like. I guess it takes all kinds to make a world, the violent and the evil as well as the peaceful and the saintly.

    I’m really glad that Nerissa is among the number of the peaceful and the saintly. We all need role models, and the world would surely be a better place if more people looked to role models like her for peace and saintliness. Maybe we can’t all be like that, but it’s good knowing that there are some lights still shining in the darkness, and that all hope has not yet flown the coop.


  3. What I remember about those immediately post-9/11 days was watching the sky, in the first days when no flights were permitted. The sky looked so odd without contrails in it, until I realized that the sky always looked like that before the early 20th Century. Part of understanding art is appreciating the sudden changes in awareness that can bring the mind up short; I never expected to find that feeling in such a time, but there it was. I found comfort in the emptiness, something I would have thought impossible.

  4. Nerissa,

    Your words from 2001 still ring true today. I remember feeling such community – both local and global – after the attacks. I wish more Americans would have held tight to that sense of community.

    Like Stephen, I remember staring at the night sky and not seeing or hearing any air traffic. There was a sense of peace in the serenity of the skies. It was a welcome sanctuary from the vivid brutality that was replayed endlessly on TV (and which I couldn’t help but watch, hoping for a different outcome).


  5. Earlier that summer in 2001 we left work in a hurry one weekday night in order to catch the free Nields concert on the WTC Plaza. As always it was a very enjoyable evening. Just three weeks prior to 9/11 we repeated the ‘rush’ in order to hear another favorite Jill Sobule out on the plaza. There really are just no words to describe the feelings of that late summer/fall here in our native NYC. We also have no words to describe our current horrid administration in Washington.

  6. I too stared at the empty skies and found such a feeling of peace and of safety. I laid on our back deck feeling such profound sadness and heartache and fear, and knowing that there was nothing in the sky was so comforting. I knew it was something that I would never see again (at least I pray I won’t), and through the sadness, I felt such a feeling of wonder.

    – gwen

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