The Presence of Death: the Promise of Unity
On September 11, 2001, the perception of our country by those of us in the United States of America changed. And the perception of the United States of America by others around the world changed.
What changed was the perception of vulnerability.
Although the United States had been attacked, and has had previous civil war, it had never before had such an attack upon its way of life. As Americans learn from a very young age, the “American” way of life, meaning freedom, justice, and potential self-realization, are cornerstone to their way of thinking. This freedom has been bought by the lives of people through many generations. Heroes and heroines, both in war and in day-to-day life, have championed its cause and won. It is a lifestyle envied by many. And so it is targeted by those who do not share in its abundance.
September 11 will long be remembered as the day when vulnerability in the minds of the average person (as opposed to military and security minded people who deal with this concept daily) became a reality. Vulnerability as a country is comparable to vulnerability as an individual. When one’s life is threatened, when one faces the possibility of one’s own demise, one faces what I will call here the “presence” of death. Here, in the face of this possibility which most of us deny on a daily basis in order to be able to continue, is the reality of our own vulnerability.
We don’t like feeling vulnerable. We don’t like being reminded that this life on earth is only passing. We cling to faith to help us accept the future with optimism. And we should. For that faith is in something we believe to be greater than ourselves. It might be described as the child who feels completely vulnerable in the world, and is, without the loving protection of the parents. Our relationship to a greater power is like the child to the parent. Thus, many of us have trusted our future to a greater life to come. And it is this faith that has caused many to risk their lives that others might have a better life in the present.
What we must remember is that the American way of life has many benefits not enjoyed in many places in the world. Poverty, lack of even the most basic needs, causes great despair and anger. Communications which have joined us across otherwise un-infiltratable boundaries now provide images of perceived decadence to those wanting. While those images may challenge others to improve their own conditions, they may also reinforce feelings of unfairness. What may be needed is the image and perception that those who are experiencing abundance want to share with others. However, even more recent images of corporate greed are increasing perceptions of lack of caring, threatened financial security, and images of greedy Americans taking what is not rightfully or morally theirs. Perhaps this image, of abundance and greed, is one which we must all reconsider.
Not only Americans are to be examined. In countries worldwide we see disparity. Often it is those in leadership positions who live with great wealth, while the common people starve. Dictatorships are even more dangerous because the common people are oppressed and have little or no voice. Freedom as Americans have enjoyed may be threatened, but freedom worldwide is an even greater issue. Perhaps Americans, those of us who have enjoyed great freedom, will be sensitized to the need for freedom worldwide. However painful our reminder of our own vulnerability, it may be a blessing that we are reminded of the vulnerability of others worldwide.
Greed oppresses. Terrorism oppresses. Dictatorships oppress. Racial intolerance oppresses. Gender intolerance oppresses. Economic class systems oppress. Lack of education oppresses. Systems that protect inequalities in education and healthcare oppress.
The pain of suffering and death on September 11 was horrific. The heroes and heroines will long be remembered and honored. The unity that prevailed was inspirational. But there are other great lessons that can be taken from this event. Possibly the greatest lesson is in our need to care for one another across geographical, racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and socio-economic boundaries. We need to affirm the one-ness of the human race. We need to rout out and eliminate greed and revenge in our own hearts. And we need to reach out in human goodness, of which we are each capable, and help one another.
One place to begin might be to join one of the great service organizations that help human beings internationally. Or if you are more inclined, focus your attention locally. There has never been a better time to donate our time and energy to causes that better the lives of people. There has never been a better time to be conscious of the images we portray to the world. There has never been a better time to reexamine our own values. And there has never been a better time to reach out to others in caring and concern.
Service to others is not portrayed as sexy or glamorous. It should not be a way of earning status, but a way of being fulfilled. It will not bring financial wealth; it will bring wealth of the spirit. And when our spirit is empowered we will focus on those things that unify our soul with the love of our Higher Power, or God, or Love, or Allah, or by whatever name we call that which is greater than each of us, but which unifies all of us.
When you celebrate September 11 each year. When you honor those who gave all. When you remember those innocent people who perished and their families who mourn. When you contribute to your favorite charities, do it in the spirit of unity. And do it in your heart as International Unity Day. May September 11 always remind us that as humans we have the opportunity to serve others and in turn find the fulfillment that comes with giving.
Sue Kidd Shipe, President
International Institute For Human Empowerment, Inc.
P. O. Box 3920
Albany, New York 12203 USA