September 11, 2016
I posted this entreaty on my now-defunct website in October, 2001. I still believe what I wrote then.
By Katharine C. Otto, October, 2001
I am sad for the planet right now, but as usual, not for the same reasons as everyone else.
Because I believe in the immortality of the soul, I don’t believe in death. I see those who gave their lives in the September 11 tragedy not so much as victims but as participants in an event that rocked the world. They have moved to other dimensions, out of sight, but not out of mind and heart.
I am sadder for those of us who must deal with the consequences. We stand in a precarious position. We are outraged. We are sad. We are afraid. There is a sense of urgency, a push to do something, but we don’t know what to do.
Meanwhile, internal cohesiveness is growing. Americans feel united against a common enemy. We are nicer to each other. Flags are flying. People feel free to talk about God.
On a deeper, more personal level, I believe the September 11 event has forced us to examine our individual values, recognizing everything we cherish can be swept away in a heartbeat, without warning or provocation. Our anger and fear are understandable, given the context. The enemy – whoever he is, or they are – used our own airplanes and skyscrapers against us. They collapsed our most visible symbols of wealth and power. It only cost them a few plane tickets and the lives of some fanatical devotees who died believing they were doing their religious duty. Or so we assume.
Worse, for the first time since the United States broke free of Britain, civilians have been attacked from outside. We are faced with the real possibility of war on our own turf, should we act precipitously or irresponsibly. And, despite our world leadership in technology, education, wealth, and power, we are uncomfortably vulnerable in the face of this enemy, on whom our most modern defenses don’t work and may be used against us.
I think we should give credit where it is due. These enemies are wily and cunning, and it is foolhardy to underestimate them. They know our weaknesses. If we allow them to provoke us or frighten us into rash action, it will hurt us more than them. We have more to lose than they do. I, for one, do not enjoy suffering.
I believe we win by developing our strengths, getting control of our own anger and fear, and approaching this situation with reasonable caution. There is wisdom in patience. Yes, fate happens. But individuals, groups, and nations have the free will to choose their responses. Anger and fear distort judgment and lead to bad decisions.
Of course, mastering one’s emotional responses, without denying them, is the challenge of psychiatry, psychology, religion, literature, art, and of life itself. There are no easy answers.
However, as the dust settles over New York, and as we reflect individually and collectively on what has transpired, I believe it will be important for each of us to take an honest inventory of our values. What is truly important, and what is not? And those qualities – spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical – that are valuable to us, let us take the time and energy to appreciate and build upon them. For me, those things are very close to home.