I didn’t intend to write this but sometimes the words come and won’t be contained. It is born out of my philosophy as a yogi and not intended as a political statement.
Today is the 13th anniversary of the day everything changed.
I don’t know if that last statement is true for every generation or just mine. We Gen Xers and older Millenials grew up in relative peace, sheltered from the realities of mass violence and war. Yes, there was a brief period in the early 90’s when we fought in the Gulf. Yes, there was Rawanda and Bosnia and the last decade of the Cold War. But unless there was the direct deployment of a close family member, our daily lives remained largely unaffected.
That changed when planes flew into buildings on our home soil. For us this was unimaginable. But for those who lived through D’Day, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Kennedy assassination, I have a suspicion (though no proof) that it may have been all too familiar.
September 11th is one of those epoch moments. Everyone over a certain age has an answer to the question, “Where were you on September 11th?” I was taking a chemistry test when the planes hit. I heard about it while driving around the quad at the University of Alabama. Tom Clancy was being interviewed on NPR since he had imagined a similar event in one of his books. It took a few minutes before I understood that this was reality.
I went to a friend’s house and we watched the television coverage with the blinds closed. The buildings crumbled to the ground. Later, I went to work at the Olive Garden and we sang the Buona Festa song to a young man having his birthday dinner.
“Buona Festa what a joyous day. Life’s good fortune is sure to come your way. Come on sit back and just relax and fill your plate the Italian way. We’re so glad you came to celebrate with us today.”
Life is so small.
A few days later my now husband and I were sitting with a friend on the Olive Garden patio. “Everything has changed,” our friend said. I looked out at the familiar landscape, the traffic and the September sun but it didn’t make sense.
For us it was the end of innocence and the awakening to our place in the greater world. Life went on. The sun rose, the sun set. The buildings and people around us remained but the veneer was different. Like an old piece of furniture stripped of it’s varnish, waiting to see what stain will give it a different look.
Thirteen years later this day still feels different than others. Different, but also the same.
It’s true that we are in the midst of difficult times and challenging transition, but that is true of every age. On a global scale no one era is better or worse than another. Violence and war morph to fit the times; people have always been beheaded. A stake in the square is different only in that the locals get to see it. Now we have television.
A week or so ago I was leaving the Y where I had been teaching a yoga class. I had the baby on my hip, a few bags slung over my shoulder and a waterbottle in another hand. On my way out a man said, “Would you like to help out with our September 11th day of remembrance? We’re asking people to bring little treats to the first responders in our area.”
Even though I struggle with a nagging feeling that my work as a yoga teacher and writer is not enough to meet and heal the pain in the world I do believe that, as the deacon at our church said once, “Small acts done with great love can change the world.” I want my son to know this so I signed up to bring some cookies.
I was going to bake from scratch but the timing involved in cookie making and the reality of caring for an infant is a bit boggling. I bought a mix but can’t taste the finished product because it’s not gluten free. I am now afraid they will be horrible. My cookies seem too small to change the world.
I’m very good at finding ways to feel inadequate. It’s all very self-centered and lacking in gratitude.
Today we hold the polar energies of remembrance and anxiety as we partner with other countries to take out the ISIL terrorists.* I didn’t realize how much tension I was holding about this threat until I heard we were doing something about it.
I understand the arguments to leave well enough alone. People are going to do what they are going to do and we don’t have any control over that. The only control is our actions. At the same time, don’t we as a country with means have a duty to fight for those who for whatever reason can’t fight for themselves, or just need help doing so?
Do we choose to come to the rescue or sit in armed – neutrality like Switzerland? (Though perhaps without the unfortunate ties to the Third Reich)
We need people willing to fight for others. And we need passionate neutrality. Like monks, we need those who will sit in silence and hold the pain so it can be transformed into peace.
On a personal level maybe this our role. As yogis and people of spirit perhaps it is our job to sit in silence; to draw suffering into our awareness and hold it there; to feel pain without running.
Talk of love is often accompanied by talk of fire. Love burns. Burning hurts.
There’s a wood working technique where the artisan sets fire to a piece of wood to burn away the earlywood – softer grain that shows at the beginning of a season – and allow the latewood – the stronger, denser grain – to show through.
Despite the change in our country’s policy perhaps Woodrow Wilson was, on a personal level, right when he said, “We are not trying to keep out of trouble; we are trying to preserve the foundations on which peace may be rebuilt.”
Perhaps this is what we do with silence and with our small acts. Perhaps through this work we are able to burn away the violence and allow our inner work for peace to grow strong in the face or fire.
*I refuse to call them ISIS. Even though I know it’s an acronym Isis is the powerful Egyptian goddess of life and rebirth. I can’t co-opt in such a manner.