17 years ago, on this day - I walked back to my East Village apartment from the World Financial Center. I remember the mild sunlit weather, how it clashed with events of the day. I also remember sounds, smells, impressions of shadow, and the blisters from my new shoes. Later that evening, I couldn’t reconcile my experience with the images on my neighbor’s television screen.
Of course, we were in shock. We understand that people all over the world lived through terrible daily atrocities, in and out of war zones. But those people were not my neighbors. Until that day, all my tragedies had been personal, and this was a collective injury.
In the days that followed, there was incredible camaraderie and tenderness. New Yorkers were loved by the country, the world, and by one another. We watched the smoke settle and rubble covered buses being towed down 4th Avenue. The city was very quiet.
Then we turned outward - and become us vs. them, the heroes vs. the terrorists. All those tender feelings transformed to collective fear and vengeance.
Vengeance is something I haven’t had much use for. I cried more upon hearing we were at war than I cried when those buildings collapsed. Why we didn’t attempt to understand and dismantle the systems that created inequality? Why defend ‘our’ tribe by attacking the ‘other’, what did we hope to achieve? Was all this to create safety for future generations, or were we to breed more hate?
The Evil Other is a popular motif in both fact and fiction - movies, sports, and history books all agree. To emerge victorious, someone else must suffer. There are few examples where people from different backgrounds come together to make a change or help a third party. I’m not sure why culture evolved this way, but it seems a bit dysfunctional at this point.
All divisions of people breed disharmony. Whether we separate by race, religion, nationality, or political views - pain is inherent in perceived separation. It is as though we can poison the water in one part of the world and pretend that ‘our’ own ocean is unaffected. That is one side of human nature. There are others, we are complex and perhaps evolving.
Many things have changed in my life - I left a corporate job to focus on yoga, then motherhood, then acupuncture and other healing. As a a nation, I’m not sure a lot has changed - we seem to still be fighting.
Most days I forget that.
Other days, like today, it feels like a great responsibility to remain tender hearted. An unpopular choice, to refuse the ideas of good vs. evil. It is my sincere hope that more of us will wake up to the lack of separation, and begin to see all of humanity as family. Perhaps then we can be true heroes - coming together in love for our fragile and beautiful world.