Tragedies change our lives. Need they change us, the people we truly are?
So much has already been written about the September 11 tragedies that I hesitate to write more, for it feels as though all has been said already. Yet I cannot ignore them, either.
We are overwhelmed with tragedies. Tragedy of the thousands of deaths, innocent people suddenly taken from their loved ones, children destined to grow up without the father, or the mother, or the sibling or other family member or friend who might have made all the difference in their lives. People who have lost those closest to them, people who, almost worst pain of all, still do not know…
Tragedy of symbols destroyed. Tragedy of life plans, work plans, lost. Of years of hard work, time, effort, dreams, tossed aside and ground into powder.
Tragedy of innocence lost, of people who lived in faith and calm who will now live with suspicion and fear.
Tragedy of contagious anger. The frustration and pain that most feel, but that, in some, is flowing over into hateful thoughts, vicious messages and actions. Suddenly the internet is more filled with anger and hostility, both toward individuals and toward peoples as a whole. Suddenly people who have lived relatively peacefully fear to shop at their local grocery store. Suddenly the terrorists are winning by undermining not brick and concrete, but how we are to each other.
We may assume that the terrorists had many goals, ncluding shock, pain, death, destruction. There is much about which most of us can do little or nothing, except pray, contribute where we can, offer a shoulder where it is needed. But about the anger and hate… there we CAN do something. We can refuse to hate. We can deal with our anger. We can come together in caring, rather than rant apart in rage. If you would deny the terrorists their ultimate goal, which may go far beyond the destruction of steel and concrete and flesh and bone, then refuse to hate. Refuse to let them change, in a negative direction, the way you respond to your fellow humans.
Have you ever been condemned by association? Assumed to be a certain way because of the company you kept, the clothes you wore, the friends you had? Ever been stereotyped, responded to in a certain way by people who did not know you at all? Simply because of how you looked, or where you or your ancestors were born? I have, and I know how deeply it wounds, by its very unfairness, and the feeling of helplessness that it engenders.
Even on the day of the tragedy, the mayor of the community in which I live found it necessary to plead for tolerance because the Islamic members of that community were already being harassed. Even before the tragedy, some internet messageboards were becoming hateful. Hate-ful. Full of hate. What does that say about those who are so consumed?
Our fury at the terrorists is, with full justification, multi-faceted, but much of it is about the killing of innocents, people with whom they could not have any quarrel, for they did not know them. When we turn that fury on people we do not know because of what they wear, how they worship, or where they or their parents were born, do we not begin to slide down the slippery slope toward a similarly heinous attitude?
How will we heal from these tragedies? Slowly, I think, but most definitely not by hating. Certainly the perpetrators must pay full penalty for their actions, but let not the innocent suffer with them. If we become like unto the perpetrators in our actions, and in our anger, then they win.
Whether it is the neighbor in your grocery store, or the families living near wherever the originator of these dark deeds may be, let us resolve to protect them as surely as we wish that our loved ones had been protected.
Where the perpetrators hoped to disrupt, let us keep moving forward with our lives wherever we can. Where they sought despair, let us hope. Where they attempted to sow hatred, let our love for the innocents of humanity grow ever stronger.
Diana Gardner Robinson