FROM THE TERROR, TIMELESS PERSONAL LESSONS
by Gary Gach
American Reporter Correspondent
San Francisco, Calif.
SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- As the world sorts through the rubble, internal=
and external, following September 11, I'm beginning to recover my own voic= e. For a while I was in shock. Frozen, almost. Numb.
Now I realize that personal psychic paralysis was also an aim of the ter= rorists. So, rather than contribute any opinion about the Big Picture, I am= concentrating on personal reponse.
Truth, as poet Sylvia Plath reminds, is white-hot and personal.
A few days before the day our world changed, I'd played emcee for three = Afghani-American panelists following a benefit screening of Iara Lee's new = documentary film "Beneath the Borqa," and so had a head start on some of th= e seemingly alien terrain suddenly thrust into mass consciousness, the home= land of my new Afghani friends who long to rebuild their country to its for= mer nobility and beauty.
But even with my briefing on the Taliban and Afghanistan, it was like a= chunk of the World Trade Center had fallen right on my head.
Now I can feel myself begin to thaw and let go. As the tide of words ris= es in my heart again, here are two lessons I know I've learned, arisen in m= y soul like lotuses blossoming out of muck.
Lesson One, it is okay to be genuinely afraid. To experience and = live with one's personal fear.
Am I afraid? You betcha!
This was a terrorist attack. Terror strikes deeper than a bomb. Like a l= ong, thin needle it penetrates right into the human heart.
9/11 (and nine= -one-one, the number for calling emergency help) inspires fear in many form= s, on many levels. It's probably different for everyone. As for me, I know = I was initially terrified to imagine what the horrible attacks must have be= en like. Then I felt greater fears of what might have happened were the tar= get a nuclear installation.
As my thoughts raced, I tried understanding the murderers. What would c= ompel human beings to commit suicide? To override the universal, instinctua= l, and tenacious will to live. Further, they lived in America for years, sh= opped at Wal-Mart, ate pizza, greeted neighbors, yet saw only a nation of S= atan, not fellow human beings just like themselves.
This is all quite scary.
And it's natural to confess to feeling fear. Otherwise unrecognized fear= turns to blind rage, a spark kindling a fuse of anger initiating cycles of= tragic violence. (I admit I am also afraid just to say this, lest I seem u= npatriotic. But isn't peace our ultimate agenda?)
Nursing my fear feels like holding a candle in an outdoor vigil among s= trangers. Whether agreeing or disagreeing, eventually we see the light we a= ll radiate. We help keep each other's candles lit in the wind. Light begets= the warmth of fellow feeling.
Staying with my own fear, I can see we're each no different in our suff= ering, and our aspirations for peace. That moral clarity engenders compassi= on in me.
It doesn't take the destruction of countless lives to realize this. And= still the tragedy remains.
Lesson Two is that it's also ok to admit "I don't know." There's = so much that's unknown.
Are we dealing with networks? Or a state? ("Who d= o we nuke?" "Or if we invade, what's our exit strategy?" "Or do we put them= on trial?")
A terrrorist mindset is alien to us. Plus they're hidden. And let's face= it: so many Americans know so little of our global village. And our place = in it.
And so the slaying on September 15 in Mesa, Ariz., of Balbir Singh Sodh= i, who immigrated from India ten years ago, father of three children, might= be called a crime of ignorance as well as hatred.
Why? Because the murderer blamed the Sikh man for the terrorist attacks= simply for being dark-skinned and wearing a turban like that of Osama bin = Laden. (The Sikh religion has its roots closer to Hinduism than Islam.) Mr.= Sodhi was slain not by a white supremacist, by the way, but, rather, a Lat= ino.
He drove up in a red pick-up truck to where Mr. Sodhi worked, at a gas s= tation, rolled down his window, and shot him, three times, without leaving = his seat, and drove off. This was, alas, the first of now hundreds of hate = crimes reported across the U.S.
Terrorism attacks our democratic way of life.
Very scary. No one knows where this will all lead. And it's ok not to= know, and to be afraid. And to dwell in the honesty of such recognition.
Only from awareness can we dissolve fear and hatred with compassion. Ign= orance with wisdom.
One true thing about our modern era: we are evermore confronted with ci= rcumstances about which we can't be certain. That is deeply scary for most.= Religion and much of politics have always offered the comfort of certainty= and absolutes.
Myself, I am proceeding step by step in my immediate, personal, daily l= ife, which somehow has become public as suddenly "We are all Americans," as= one Frenchman put it.
I'm bearing witness to life around me. America's wounds and the waves of= suffering flowing from them are very deep. They demand patience and clarit= y, wisdom and compassion -- in my day-to-day life as a citizen, a family me= mber, a neighbor, a workmate, a customer, and so on. Being kind to myself; = being kind to others I interact with.
The awesome nobility of New Yorkers, the heroes of Ground Zero, inspire= s me with many, many instances of the human desire for a better tomorrow am= id the very, very worst of human blindness. Amid the evil, if you will, of = ignorance.
And I am visiting my local mosque this week. I go to learn more, first-h= and, about spiritual practices of my Islamic American brothers and sisters,= aunties and uncles, and to pray in solidarity with their anguish at the be= trayal of their faith. (9/11 is a wake-up call on many levels.)
Personal = matters of daily life might seem trivial and ineffectual, but I cannot find= terrorists and bring them to jutice, nor reunite any of the bereaved with = the MISSING faces posted on the streets (even in my neighborhood, in San Fr= ancisco). But I can take these small mindful steps with all my body, heart,= and mind.
I nurture my healing.
Gary Gach is author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understandi= ng Buddhism and editor of What Book!? ~ Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (A= merican Book Award, 1999). He's been weaving a Web site of spiritual respo= nses to 9/11 athttp://awakening.to/peace.html, an online anthology of vows = and prayers, multifaith analyses and poetry. He's also author of The Pocket= Guide to the Internet (1996) and Writers.net (1997). From 1994-96, he was = Arts Editor at Asian Week. He is a contributing writer for The American Re= porter, and has published in the San Francisco Chronicle, the San= Francisco Examiner, the San Jose Mercury News, and Christian= Science Monitor.