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Our Response to 9/11
by Michael Maciel


This article first appeared in the /February 2002 issue of The Edge Newspaper

From time to time, a saying, an aphorism, some kind of expression will show up in sacred scripture that, in its utter simplicity, is deeply profound— Moses’ "I am that I am", Buddha, when asked the meaning of life, holding up a flower, and Jesus’ admonition, "Let your communication be either yes or no; anything else cometh of evil". These statements are so simple, so elegant, that they defy interpretation. They admit their truth to us only when we let go to the experience they point to, an experience which does not lodge itself in our intellect, not even in our heart, but deep within our gut. This is the kind of experience that makes us say to ourselves, "Oh yeah, that. I know that. I’ve always known that." Beyond interpretation, beyond feeling, beyond visualization, it is reserved for those who have let go of all pretenses of certainty, security, and self-identity. It reveals the world as it is, neither right nor wrong, but direct, like exposed bedrock.

This is the spirituality that calls to us now in this changed world of ours, this world that has come to a screeching halt, that has caused us to see itself in its own conspicuous nakedness. Like the stunned silence that follows an explosion, our lives are caught in midair, hovering, looking, not knowing anything for certain. The moves we make now, the decisions we make, the direction we turn our faces toward—all these will determine the character of our spirit, both personally and collectively, both now and for decades to come. It is immeasurably important that we find our bedrock, our yes and no, our I am that I am.

Yes and No
Where is the yes or the no that Jesus talks about? Where is the I am of Moses? And what’s so profound about merely saying yes or no, or I am—when are these words powerful?

The most powerful no is the quiet no. It’s the no that refuses to participate that cannot be defeated. It can only be undermined from within, corrupted by the feeling that we have to justify our position, to explain, if only to ourselves, why not. God said to Moses, "I am that I am," not, "I am because…" Our greatest power lies in who we are, not in our reasons.

In the same way, yes need not be exuberant. Its power is not augmented by enthusiasm, only by certainty. It is the act of acceptance, sealed by the words "thank you", that makes it powerful. Yes, and no, must be spoken viscerally, from our bedrock level, in order to have the power to move mountains.

Steadfast Goodness
Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, "Wars are moral contests, and they are won in the tempers before they are ever fought." An aggravated and aggressive mind needs a willing recipient before it can fully vent its frustration, some indication that its opponent will not resist. All of us bear the burden now as the rest of the world waits for us to flinch, to see whether we will abandon our dreams of liberty and the rights of individuals, to see if the Great Experiment of our free society fails, and whether we will succumb to our fears and baser instincts.

Freedom is an absolute word, like pregnant—you either are or you aren’t. As long as a single person on the planet is not free, no one is. We cannot legitimately demand freedom only for ourselves.

Striking back militarily might play well on the evening news, but it does not prove our love for freedom, only our capacity to react. This does not distinguish us in the eyes of history—might does not equal right. What does distinguish us is our capacity to hold our ideals higher than our human nature, our ability to take a hit without abandoning our moral aspirations, which are liberty and justice—for everyone.

Freedom is an absolute word, like pregnant—you either are or you aren’t. As long as a single person on the planet is not free, no one is. We cannot legitimately demand freedom only for ourselves.

World Peace
I am not suggesting blind pacifism, but the refusal to sink to the level of our enemies, and, more importantly, to recognize in them the universal desire for justice and opportunity, a desire shared by all people in all times.

If we can see the roots of goodness in even the most misguided acts, we are that much closer to world peace—not the domination of the many by a fortunate few, but the acknowledgement of the value of diversity and the participation of the whole human family in the pursuit of the common good.

Of all moral virtues, courage is the highest, because it is of the heart. Without courage, none of the other virtues stand a chance of becoming realized in this world. In our desire to press forward, we sometimes make mistakes, but the mistakes do not invalidate the desire. We must not let the intimidation of 9/11, or the apparent victory in Afghanistan, or the giddiness and excitement of our modern technological culture blind us to the vision of freedom for everyone, a vision that has been our hope for over two hundred years. The road to world peace is not easy. The guns we must stick to are moral ones, principles of the heart illumined by the mind, principles we have not only died for, but lived for as well.

What can we do, practically, to bring about world peace? We can pray for the prosperity and happiness of everyone in the world. We can insist on justice everywhere, using it as the yardstick for our foreign policies. And, most importantly, we can be strong in our conviction that these ideals are indeed possible and desirable. Let us find the courage to slay the dragons of hatred and revenge within ourselves and not let the fury of others distract us from the way of peace and cooperation.

9/11 was indeed a wake-up call, but to what shall we awaken? Whatever we choose will be the manifestation of our ability to respond, and our opportunity to respond well. Let’s keep our eyes open and our gaze upward as we continue to work for a better world.



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