In The Aftermath
Whether we were in, near, or far from New York City, Washington, DC, or rural southwestern Pennsylvania during the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the events of that day will be etched forever in our memories, along with an endless loop of the now-familiar, horrifying images. If we lost loved ones, there are no words of solace to ease the pain. The gaping hole in our heart is as wide as the world. If we are one of the fortunate survivors or if we somehow narrowly escaped the unthinkable, we, too, will be eternally changed. Perhaps we will see more vividly the treasure that is life itself, or maybe we will be inspired to add deeper purpose and meaning to our lives. Closely confronting our own mortality forces us to rethink our priorities and determine what is most important for us to accomplish in our limited time on earth.
Regardless of our proximity to these unspeakable tragedies, we have been touched and moved in ways that could not have been predicted or imagined. The impossible has occurred. Attacks on American soil have been unprecedented since the Civil War. Younger generations have been spared the dark cloud of the Cold War and the associated threats of nuclear annihilation that those of us growing up in the 1940s and 1950s experienced as children. Nothing prepared us for what has transpired. Consequently, our grief and sorrow intermingle with anger, uncertainty, and confusion.
As America stands at a crossroads, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reassess what truly matters to us--individually and collectively--and deliberately choose the direction we wish to take. If we can inch back carefully from the rage and frustration that has engulfed us, we will discover a heightened sensitivity and sharpened awareness that can guide us toward greater wisdom.
A number of animal activists and vegans have expressed doubt regarding what previously had been the primary focus in their lives. In the face of a human crisis of such enormous proportion, it is not surprising that we are compelled to reevaluate whether our energies somehow have been misplaced. In the aftermath of so much human carnage, many aspects of ordinary day-to-day living seem trivial. For some of us, the jolt of compassion we experienced for the human victims of this catastrophe came as a revelation, perhaps because we had placed animal suffering on a rung above human suffering, instead of beside it, or maybe because we had pitted ourselves against the "omnivore enemy" and were blinded to our common link as human beings, or maybe we simply discovered a deeper love and an irrepressible yearning to connect more closely with our human sisters and brothers.
For many of us, the concern about what others put on their plates grew increasingly insignificant as the week wore on and we reached out to and held dear our fellow human beings in desperate need. Our hearts broke open, and we were flooded with stunning generosity and kindness, pouring from the depths of our being. The level of benevolence we extended was astonishing. Heroes emerged from the rubble of heartache, and we amazed even ourselves with a strength we didn't know we possessed.
The crisis is far from over, but as the dust settles and we can begin to see more clearly, we have a chance to reflect on what has transpired around us and transformed inside us. Are we the same people we were before September 11, 2001? If not, what is different?
In the wake of this devastation, we can more fully comprehend that hatred breeds hatred and violence begets violence. For this reason, as a society we are obliged to examine our role in perpetuating aggression and ill-will and explore our relationship with the rest of world. What have we overlooked that we now can address? What have we done wrong that we now can make right? Where have we disregarded the needs of various countries or trampled on their cultures, and what can we do to remedy these matters? We have exalted our way of life above all others and advanced capitalism and materialism at all costs. We can view this terrible tragedy as a second chance, a time for contemplation and introspection rather than placing blame or pointing fingers. We can measure need against greed in the global economy and rediscover the principles we truly cherish while learning how to fully engage them.
On a personal level, we can investigate how our actions and choices affect other lives. For instance, does our ethic of compassion embrace or exclude our own species? Through our efforts on behalf of other animals, do we extend empathy and understanding toward those with whom we disagree or do we spread animosity and commit destructive acts against persons and property? Do we operate from a place of peace or anger? Do we regard callous deeds on behalf of animals as "honorable," "principled," or "necessary retribution"? Are we mature and courageous enough to acknowledge that some of our responses to animal injustice might be sowing seeds of enmity and mistrust and alienating those we should be courting as allies? How do our national organizations and smaller grassroots groups represent us? As zealots? Fanatics? Militant extremists? If so, will this in the long run engender sympathy for our cause or create new adversaries and further opposition? Is this how we see ourselves? Is this how we want to be seen?
The losses we have undergone as a nation and as individuals are incomprehensible. The numbers are unfathomable, the scheme diabolical. We have been violated, torn apart, and we are grief-stricken, exposed, and vulnerable. Yet, as we despair and hunger for answers and define a course of action, we also must find the patience and resolve to look within, to the self, because this is the cradle of change.
In this hour of immense anguish, many of us have turned to prayer, whether or not we are religious or believe in a deity. Gandhi said: Prayer is not asking; it is a longing of the soul. In the spirit of Ahimsa, let us pray for peace--for those who perished, for their loved ones, for ourselves, and for all who inhabit the earth.
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