I remember September 11th like it was yesterday. The first thing I remember is that my kids were in school about three and half miles from the smoking wreckage of the Pentagon. The next thing I remember is that my husband’s office was between the White House and the Capital – where the fourth plane was headed -- and that he couldn’t get to the kids because everyone was running, driving and walking out of the city for their lives. The next image that swims into view was me -- stuck in Los Angeles for a week away from my family and friends in NY and DC who were suffering so terribly. For the first and last time in years, I was glued to CNN to watch the tragedy unfold. Even LA shut down for three days, the American People were so shocked – and afraid.
But then what I remember was love. The great outpouring of support for the victims and their families -- the calls for tolerance and not to continue the cycle of hate. My neighbors and country responded to those calls – for a while.
I’m very conflicted about the wars that have raged on our taxdollars over the past ten years. While I abhor violence, I’m not foolish enough to think that it doesn’t play a role in keeping our world from falling into chaos. My brother’s an ex-cop. My son wants to be a Marine. I live and work in Washington and I read the paper, struggling to understand the difficult choices my neighbors who run the country have to make on a daily basis. What I know about the policies and practices that try to keep our world safe reminds me that there is no simple solution. And so I wrestle with how I should feel about the fact that some of my taxdollars, which I give freely to the government that does so much for us, are used to drop bombs that birth widows and orphans.
My personal approach is not to engage in conflict. I vote my conscience. I don’t give energy to negative thoughts. I teach my children tolerance, acceptance and love. I contribute to good causes that help those widows. But that doesn’t relieve the conflict around me, or in me.
Nowhere is the conflict more apparent to me than when I think about the warriors themselves. In Arlington, VA where I live you see them on the streets, on the metro, in the coffee shops. They are the ones spending my taxdollars to create death and destruction. And they are the ones upholding my freedom and helping the children who are homeless because of their violence. Some of them are dear friends. All of them have my love, respect and sympathy.
Recently I worked on a project that took me into the halls of the Pentagon itself. The building has been nicely refurbished with a somber memorial and a more secure entrance that at least kept a crazy gunslinger at bay – instead of letting him run rampant inside -- a few months before I took the job. On my first visit there I wasn’t sure what to expect. I know members of the military, but I’d never been in such a concentrated hotbed of them. What would the energy be like? Would it be brewing with anger as they plotted bombing campaigns and funding strategies to get more guns? Or would Defense Secretary Gates’ and Admiral Mullens’ balanced and – in my view – rational energy pervade?
As I walked the halls, had the meetings, joked with my friends over lunch, I made an effort to see them all with my magical eyes, and what I saw were people driven by a purpose, a belief, that what they did was noble, important and necessary. Many were weary. All were respectful. I liked that I could make them relax by seeing them with love, even though that wasn’t my job there.
But as I left the building I had another uncomfortable thought. The people we fight. The haters – both inside and outside our borders, inside and outside our institutions – they are also driven by purpose and a belief that what they do is important. They are also warriors in this fight. Are they worthy of my love and respect?
I do not love or respect hatred. The ends do not justify the means and hatred is a means. Even if pursuing a worthy goal, hatred brings consequences that tarnish the achievement, leave more heartache and breed more violence – if not to the body then to the soul. There are warriors on both sides that are noble and warriors who are haters. I choose not to respect or support the haters, no matter who they fight for. But I must love the haters themselves, for otherwise I am no better than they.
I must tell you that this hurts me. Opening myself up to hatred is painful. It reminds me that I am capable of hate myself. But that’s not the point. The only way I can combat the haters is to love them. I do not condone their actions; I support those that fight them in the flesh; I would be happy to see them behind bars. But I do not hate them. Selfishly, and to protect myself from becoming a hater, I send them my love.
On this day of remembrance, I muster my heartforce to send out streams of love to all those who have suffered at the hands of hate, and to those who have wielded the instruments of suffering. I don’t do this for noble reasons and I don’t do it easily. I do it because it is the only way I know how to fight.
Tell me, how has this decade of conflict affected you, your neighbors and your world? How do you cope? How do you fight? Share your stories, please.
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