This time of year, on and around the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, is difficult. It is a difficult time for millions of people both in the U.S. and around the world. The reasons and the emotions each of us feel about the events of that day vary greatly, but I’m going to tell you why it is so very difficult for me.
Let me start by explaining how I felt the day this happened. I was, as everyone else was, horrified by the images of this awful attack. It shook me to the core, and it forever ruined that false sense of security I had that we were immune from this sort of thing in this country. I was mad as hell. I was extremely angry. I wanted to go after whomever was behind this. I hated them. I actually felt hate in my heart for the people capable of doing something like this, people capable of killing that many people. It was beyond my comprehension and so I didn’t know what to do with those emotions other than to allow them to harden my heart with hatred for the people who caused them.
The news media and government officials were quick to tell us that the people who had done this were Muslim, and they had committed these atrocities in the name of their Islamic religion, essentially serving every Muslim to us on a silver platter to be devoured by our hatred and anger. And if I am to be honest, I am guilty of initially taking part in that contemptuous feast. But I am not that same person anymore. I have learned a lot since then, and my heart has been released from the restrictive chains of bitterness.
This didn’t happen to me overnight. It was a process. That initial sense of rage eventually waned, and a lot of the hatred did, too. But the seed of it was still embedded in my heart and it didn’t take a lot to fuel it. There would be news of another attack by these extremists somewhere in the world and it would spark those same emotions once again. It would reopen that wound and it would feel just as raw as it had the day it happened. Each time causing it to feel as though my heart would never heal from this. But in time, it not only healed, it grew stronger and larger than it had ever been before.
I would have to say that one of the most profound moments for me was when I read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini. I had read his previous book, “The Kite Runner”, and was deeply moved by it, but this story really gave me a true sense of empathy for the people of Afghanistan. We see the stories on television, in magazines, and newspapers all the time about the war “over there”, about the cities being bombed, about the destruction, and the loss of life. But do we actually relate to what the people of those countries have to endure in their daily lives? For myself, that was a resounding “no”. I didn’t relate at all. I have never had to live in a world of war. We have experienced attacks here in this country over the past decade and a half, from 9/11 to the Boston Marathon bombings, but we have not had to live with that as a daily or weekly occurrence. I could not begin to fathom the strength and resilience it must take to simply survive in those conditions. But as I was reading this book, I began to feel a connection made between myself and the characters of this story. And although the characters themselves are fictional, the conditions in which they live are not.
I suddenly began to feel this kinship with them. I could begin to imagine what it was like for them to have such turmoil in their country for so many years. All of the news reports I had seen during my entire lifetime about the wars happening in the Middle East, which I had always put in a separate category of “over there”, suddenly took on such a personal view for me. I knew how I felt about the attacks here in my own country, how deeply they affected me, and how they were experiences I would never forget. And so I knew, I knew how horrific it must be for them to have those experiences all the time. I could now clearly imagine what it must be like for them to hear and feel the explosions, to see their cities destroyed, to live in fear. I suddenly felt such love and sorrow for these people so many thousands of miles away. I began to understand that we share so much in common, and these strangers began to feel as neighbors and kindred spirits. What an awakening this was for my soul!
My heart began to purge itself of the hatred it had been holding onto deep within, and the space left behind began to overflow with love and understanding. I could now clearly see the truth behind it all. It was not Muslims who attacked us. These acts of terror were and are committed by extremists that use the Islamic religion to spread hatred and division, just as there have been extremists throughout history who have used Christianity and other religions to spread hatred and division. Have you ever heard of the Crusades? The Salem Witch Trials? The KKK? These attacks are not about or perpetrated by a religion. They are committed behind the guise of religion because that is the surest and easiest way to get people riled up and cause them to hate each other, ultimately dividing them. And unfortunately it is working just as they intend it to.
And so, this time of year, when everyone is once again revisiting the tragic events of that day, there are understandably very heated and emotional posts online. Most of these seem harmless; others border on being quite aggressive; but almost all are lined with some form of disdain. I see so many of my friends and family making comments that are ugly and hurtful. I have witnessed people who I know to be loving individuals say things I would never have imagined would come from them. And I cannot tell you how much this hurts me. I am not angry with them for the things they say, I am simply filled with sadness because I know what has taken hold inside them causing them to feel the way they do. But it is difficult for me to witness every year. And I just want so badly for them to understand that their words are helping to perpetuate a supremely negative energy throughout the world.
We will not win this “War on Terror” by harboring hatred for one another. That is the very wedge they are placing between us, and only perpetuates their destructive intentions. We can only conquer their hatred with profound and unwavering love for one another. We must unite as one human race to be victorious. We must tend to the garden of our heart to remove the seeds of hatred taking root there, and replace them with seeds of compassion, empathy, and understanding. In doing so, our hearts will grow to accommodate the ever-expanding volume of love, which will eventually shine so brightly it will dispel the darkness of hatred and cruelty. But this MUST begin with each of us individually. We must each decide to make the change within ourselves. We cannot wait for this to happen en masse, because that simply will never happen. But if we each take steps toward ridding our hearts of hatred, if we each make an effort to be more attentive toward strangers as though they are friends, we will eventually see it grow beyond that which we can imagine.
I hope you will take my words to heart, and that you will take time to consider what I have said here. Please do not allow the actions of a few cause you to harbor hatred for people you do not know simply because they follow a religion you neither understand nor follow. Please don’t let your personal religious or political beliefs distort and cloud the fact that we are all human, each of us worthy of love and compassion, even when one person’s beliefs may differ from your own. We can be triumphant, we can be victorious, but we can only do so if we come together as one human race, loving each other in spite of our differences, and making room for love in ourselves.