September 11: a day so unique in its horror that it is the only day in our history designated with numbers only: nine eleven. It is also a day that has attached to it the same phrase as the great horror of the last century, the Holocaust: “Never Forget”. Today I want to issue a challenge to the readers of this post: how will you hold the events of 9/11/01; what meaning do you want to give them, and in what way will they inform your life? If you choose to never forget, what is it exactly that you will never forget?
The choices are many. “Never Forget” can serve as a cry for vengeance. It can serve as a call for vigilance. It can serve as a call to anger. My personal choice is to have it serve as a wrenching call for self-examination. Interestingly, today is exactly one week before the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, the day more than any other in the Jewish calendar devoted to self-examination. So what is the path leading from the awful events of 9/11 to self-examination? And in what direction should that path point us?
I find it useful to think of all events occurring in the “outside world” as projections of thoughts and ideas emanating from within. So what thoughts and ideas created 9/11? To Americans and millions of others around the world the destruction on 9/11 is the starkest expression imaginable of hatred, and a reason to mourn. To jihadists 9/11 is the manifestation of Allah’s retribution for the sins of a godless nation, and a reason to rejoice. Ask yourselves, have you ever hated anyone? Have you ever fantasized about destroying your enemies? Have you ever rejoiced at the downfall of another? You may say that there is a big difference between fantasizing about destruction and carrying it out, and indeed there is. But recognize that the genesis of action begins with fantasy. The fantasy I wish to dwell on today is the fantasy that we will find a path to forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not a synonym for forgetting, far from it. Nor does forgiveness suggest that there should be no punishment for the taking of innocent lives. Forgiveness is the recognition that a cycle of intolerance, hatred, and revenge leads only to more of the same. For over a thousand years Muslims and Hindus have fought in India. For over 700 years Sunnis and Shiites have clashed in the Middle East. For several hundred years Protestants and Catholics have warred in Ireland. Israelis and Arabs have been at each others’ throats for over sixty years In each of these cases generation after generation has paid the price of the narrow-minded interpretation of “Never Forget”.
South Africa chose a different path. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to proactively begin a process of healing the wounds of apartheid. Subsequently, nations as diverse as Argentina, Sierra Leone, Fiji, and Canada have established Commissions to heal wounds and achieve forgiveness. What process might lead to forgiveness around 9/11 is a question for which I do not hold the answer. But I do know that hatred breeds more hatred, and that if each of us can create a space within our minds that longs to ultimately achieve forgiveness rather than vengeance the path will eventually be found, and the entire world will benefit.