Sparse words from the journey

Reflecting on the meaning of 9/11

by Ron Kraybill, September 2002

At the anniversary of a year of trauma, grief and bloodshed at home and abroad, thoughtful Americans reflect on the meaning of it all.

No words can capture the pain of these 12 months past or reveal the meaning of the events still unfolding around us. But speak we must, each in our own voice, for in speaking we re-draw the shattered threads of our communities and find strength and healing for the work at hand.

Where can we begin, but with that which is lost? But let us also give thanks for the survival of much that is good. And then, let us seek grace and wisdom for the journey ahead.

Recognizing that they speak for my heart, but not necessarily for others, I offer here the sparse words of one traveler to others on the way.

Things I grieve in September, 2002:

For the thousands lost one year ago and the thousands more who awaken each day to the absence of a loved one.
For the thousands of innocent Afghani civilians, now numbering more than the Americans who died on September 11, who have since died from our weapons in response.
For the millions living under repressive governments that have happily seized the excuse offered by the “war on terrorism” to toss all notions of human rights out the window.
For the loss of innocence in America caused by 9/ll, and the hardness of heart which has accompanied it, making us heedless to the suffering of others caused by our fierce efforts to regain our sense of security.

For the damage we are inflicting on the century-old global effort to build an international rule of law, by demanding that our own soldiers be exempt from international standards we ourselves helped to create, and by openly proposing a pre-emptive (and clearly illegal) attack on Iraq.

For the huge reversal of world attitude against America because of our pushiness and unwillingness to take counsel from anyone, including our closest allies, in how to respond to a complex global problem.

For the fact that so few Americans appear to notice or care about our diminishing credibility in every region of the world.

For the long-term loss of security that my children and grandchildren will live with as a consequence of our rapidly-growing reputation for being selfish, pushy, and ruthless.

For the billions we have wasted on weapons, when true long-term security requires investments of a different kind.

Things for which I give thanks:

For the life and well-being I still enjoy in a world of great suffering.

For faith that God’s will shall in the end prevail.

For renewed awareness of the things that really matter in life.

For the best of America, which has for centuries inspired millions around the globe with ideals that make our world a better place.

That despite our over-reliance on military responses to 9/11, my homeland remains a place where I need not fear for my life even if I publicly question government policies.

For the growing willingness to speak out among many Americans who see the limitations of violence in addressing deep-rooted global problems and who long to direct our vast national resources towards constructive rather than destructive strategies.

Things for which I pray in September, 2002:

For the safety of every child of God on this earth.

For agony in the soul of every person and nation whose primary strategy for security is violence or the threat of it.

That America might come to see “our brother’s good our own” and count all as brothers and sisters, not only those connected to material resources we covet.

That our nation might go beyond addressing symptoms to the underlying causes of terrorism and thus recognize the need for more than counter-violence on our part.

For a massive outpouring of the ingenuity for which Americans are rightly famous, directed towards finding constructive ways of de-fusing the appeal of terrorism and creating a secure world.

For leadership sufficiently open of mind, generous of heart and humble in spirit to chart new directions in response.

At the time of publication, Ron Kraybill was professor of conflict studies in the Conflict Transformation Program (CTP) at Eastern Mennonite University. From 1989 to 1995 he lived in Cape Town as a trainer in conflict resolution and advisor to the South African National Peace Accord and recently spent 10 months in India working with conflict between Muslims and Hindus.

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