Since Tuesday, September 11, 2001, our world as we know it has changed. We will never look at things the same. Most of us grew up believing that we as Americans were invincible. We believed that the war and violence which most of the world has co-existed with would never be a part of our world.
All of that has changed, as we continue to bury thousands of innocent men, women and children who were savagely murdered by heartless terrorists. As we begin to rebuild, what do we do? What do we think and feel?
Our President, our Governor and New York City's Mayor have urged us to go back to work and get our lives back to normal - whatever normal is. Many are going through the motions of a once normal routine, but it is hard to forget the horrid pictures of two New York City landmarks on fire and tumbling in mid-morning into total ruin. On the same day, millions watched people jumping out of those burning buildings, jumping to their deaths.
Those pictures have scarred our memories forever, not to mention the hundreds of relief workers that will forever remember the human devastation they uncovered in the midst of that rubble.
The American human spirit is strong, so we must go on! As the numbness wears off and we try to re-focus, it is critical that we not be weighted down with bitterness, anger and rage. Those negative emotions will not help us rebuild or renew a positive American spirit. Those destructive feelings will only fuel hate and discrimination, which achieve absolutely nothing.
As we try to make sense of the horrific events of September 11th, how do we speak to our children about it? Clearly we do not want to intensify their fear or insecurity, but we also do not want to minimize the seriousness of what has happened.
It is important to be objective and not allow our biases to color or block the truth. Words can be very dangerous, if we use them incorrectly. Too many of our young do not have a good grasp of world history, religion or geography. The people of Afghanistan are not responsible for this human atrocity. Nor are the people and leadership of Islam.
Terrorists who are alleged to be Muslim extremists are responsible for the human destruction that has beset our nation. There are extremists in every religious group. That should not turn us from those who authentically try to live their faith. The alleged Christian extremist who in the name of Christ murdered a doctor who performed abortions should not blemish all of Christianity.
Authentic Muslims are among the three Abrahamic religions (including Christians and Jews) that believe God has entered into history. This is a time for these faiths to unite in an effort to act against hatred and violence in all of their hideous forms.
It is a time for all Americans to stand in solidarity, but not to walk blindly. We need to be cautious with our language of war, especially with our young. One can be patriotic and not automatically have to bear arms against an anonymous band of terrorists. Shooting won't be enough to control people who have nothing to lose. "Getting them," whoever they are this time, won't solve the problem or keep America safe.
Vengeance is not justice. The only kind of justice that will honor the memory of all those who lost their lives is a justice based on international law, not reckless retribution.
Too often justice is a misunderstood concept. Justice does not mean revenge, but rather reformation - a recognition that the other person is misguided and needs reform. If we truly want to rid the world of terrorism, we need to continue to build a coalition of nations committed to that effort who are willing to explore the least destructive path to achieving the ultimate goal of eliminating terrorism forever.
This approach is clearly the road less traveled and needs to be explored. As a mother of five children who was widowed on September 11th recently said, killing other innocent people in the name of justice is not going to bring about justice or change the travesty that she and her boys must cope with for the rest of their lives.
The present generation of young people, especially college students, are probably the first generation not to know firsthand the real harsh realities of war. The casualties of this unthinkable human conflict are never ending and have effects that could potentially scar people for life.
Recently, I have been troubled by how many college students have romanticized war and minimized the human cost. Even if the war is brief, life as we know it will be forever changed.
As we near this almost inevitable circumstance, we need to begin to talk to our young people about the harsh realities of war, about the human costs to be paid and the human casualties that will inevitably result. At this time, human sacrifices are being called for, but they should be made without recklessness. We all need to think and respond, not react.
As adults, we need to urge people of all ages to act and react in respectful ways. Making harsh remarks about people from the Middle East is wrong. Condemning all Muslims because some extremists claim their tradition might be responsible for the death and destruction we are still recovering from is wrong.
Acts of hate and discrimination are never right or justified in a democracy. If we are consumed with negative energy, we will never find positive ways to transform that energy so that we can all work for peace, first within ourselves, then within our nation and finally within our world.
Real peace is not merely the absence of war and violence, but rather the presence of justice. True justice must be grounded in forgiveness, respect and the truth. It's hard, even painful, but let's try to work for justice, then peace will come.