Should we really get back to normal, the norm before 9/11? Are shopping and investing enough? I hope not. Something has noticeably shifted for many Americans and we have an opportunity that goes far beyond the old norm. Even though many more children starve to death every day than died in the 9/11 plane highjackings and the subsequent anthrax attacks, our collective relationship with death has become much more real and immediate. Sudden, unexpected, unpreventable death has poked its frightening face out of the shadows and said ‘You can’t protect yourself from me anymore. You never could, but now you can’t deny it. Death can happen to you at any moment’.
There are three possible basic responses to this revelation. First, getting lost in fear of death-feeling anxious and vulnerable, wanting protection and security, displaying the flag because we want to be part of the group. Second, pushing away the fear-anger, macho wanting to destroy anything that seems threatening, indifference to the suffering of others, displaying the flag because we want to express our desire to obliterate the bad guys. Third, compassion for our own suffering and that of others-working directly with fear of death as it arises, transforming both anger and anxiety into a wish for compassion, displaying the flag to show solidarity with all those who lost loved ones in the tragedy and to express our love for freedom and democracy.
If getting back to normal is being lost in the first or second possibility, then normal is suffering and there is work to do in the service of cultivating compassion. Of course, none of us resides in any one of these possibilities all the time. Almost everyone I have spoken to about recent events feels some anxiety, some anger, and some compassion. Getting lost in fear of death or pushing it away can be obvious or it can be quite subtle. Even those utterly and passionately convinced of the righteousness of their position, whether it’s ‘violence only breeds more violence’ to ‘we must destroy them to protect ourselves’, are often forming their world views in a manner colored by unexamined fear.
‘What can I do to best contribute to the ‘war on terrorism”? is a question being asked a lot these days. To the extent we truly feel compassion, compassion for the dead and the grieving, for ourselves, for the starving, for the frightened, for the angry, for the power mad, this compassion will motivate appropriate, correct action. And possibly compassion will lead to the wise and proper use of force. But to the extent that our motivations for action are colored by unexamined fear, ‘right action’ is to first examine the root of our fear, to find compassion for the part of me and you and them that is afraid. Powerful action untempered by compassion is truly dangerous. Action naturally arising from compassion heals. This day, more than ever, cries for healing.
– Dale Borglum
A Native American grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt about the 9/11 tragedy. He said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.”
The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?”
The grandfather answered, “The one I feed.”