Last night I went to Waterfire, beautiful cool night with a full moon and our own unique civic festival in full swing.
Since September 11, 2001, I never go to a large public gathering without a small feeling of defying fear. We hear reports of credible threats, but that has been the background of the last ten years. So many parts of the world– Kenya, Northern Ireland, Chechnya– have suffered violence at the hands of organized religious and political fanatics. When that violence invaded our nation it brought into focus what had been on the margins of our national consciousness.
On that day, I was working as the Health Program Facilitator at the Providence Housing Authority. All day we stood in the community room in front of the large TV’s, or went into the apartments where the TV’s all showed the towers falling over and over. I stayed at work, glad that I believed my work mattered, but worried about my family and what might happen next. That night I couldn’t bear to be alone, and walked from Benefit Street to Rochambeau, stopping at three churches that kindly opened their doors to the lost and traumatized.
For the first time, I looked at people on the street and saw not Black and White, young and old, but simply, Americans.
In the days immediately following, the national mood was one of unity, coming together to help one another. An intern we worked with had started nursing school in NYC, and the student nurses were mobilized to assist with the wounded. There was no influx of survivors, the devastation was so complete.
There was, for a time, such a sense of selflessness. The anger, inevitable, had not yet set in. President Bush made a point of leading us away from prejudice against our Muslim citizens, though he failed to seize the moment of a national desire to serve and heal. Some of that spirit is captured in the tiles that line the walls of the peace walk at Waterplace Park.
Ten years on, our divisions are deep and painful. ‘Muslim’ has become a slur thrown at the president. Though this president succeeded in killing Osama Bin Laden, the enemy was never one man, or one organization. You can’t stop an idea with bullets, if that idea has power in the minds and hearts of people. Religious extremism flourishes when people despair of justice in this world. Angry people look for an enemy, or a scapegoat, as the terrible history of the last century shows.
Peace is not just the absence of war, it is a way of life built by work and sacrifice. War may temporarily stop an aggressor, but it cannot create a world we can live in. That is the work of the peacemakers.
I wish in this tenth year after the terrible attacks that took more than 3,000 innocent lives, and the even more terrible and costly wars that followed, that we can again find our commonality as Americans, and work in the world to stop conflict before it becomes war.
I hope that we can heal our own divisions, to make our society safe and welcoming to the veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, free and just to people of all religions, and an example to the world that our American values of liberty and justice cannot be shaken by violence from without or fear from within.