Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Breakfast Memories

There are a lot of reasons I'm starting this blog right now. But I think I'd rather jump in in the middle than at the beginning... I'm going to start with yesterday, and what came up for me over breakfast.

I always listen to the news on NPR as I get ready for work. And yesterday, NPR ran a story about the sentencing hearing for Zacharias Musawi. As part of the coverage, they described the testimony of the surviving friends and family members of 9/11 victims... and I found myself reflecting on my own experiences at that time. I remembered my initial sense that, well, at least I didn't know very many people in New York...followed by the dawning realization of just how many people in New York I did know. Actually, it turned out that more people than I could have imagined were in harm's way on that day. I remember, for instance, telling my daughter, then in middle school, that her best friend who had moved to Queens over the summer was nowhere near the WTC--only to find out days later that she had been attending school that day only a few blocks from there. (They had let the kids out early that day... and sent them all walking home. Walking Queens...on that day, of all days. Incredible.)

I was, on September 11, 2001, a Wiccan High Priestess (HP for short) of a busy coven, and a psychotherapist in private practice. I was also on faculty for the then brand-new Cherry Hill Seminary--a kind of graduate training program for Pagan clergy. I was teaching a course on pastoral counseling techniques, and all of a sudden, every one of my students needed me to talk them through crisis counseling for communities. Some of their communities were pacifists; some were military Pagans; most had communities with a diversity of feelings about war and peace. And everyone was in crisis.

I remember how cold I was, and how my hands shook as I sent out emails and wrote articles on traumatic bereavement--what to do, what to watch out for, and how to help one another.

I was also, at that time (and still am), a member of a group of Pagans who gather for a religious and educational retreat on an annual basis. Over the years, we have become very close--the event is in its twenties, now--almost like a village. Every Columbus Day weekend, including in 2001, we meet to teach, and touch, and celebrate one another. And that year, we met, among other things, for a trauma debriefing for the walking wounded members of my tribe.

The retreat had been started by New York city Pagans, and about 1/2 to 2/3 of its members still live there, or very near the city. Some of our members missed death only because they had been running late to work that morning. Others were close enough to flee for their lives, or to have horrible visions of the carnage visible between the crash of the first airplane and the collapse of the towers. And one dear friend, a firefighter from outside the city, had spent every day off between 9/11 and the retreat attending the funeral of at least one NYFD member.

Remembering his agony, again I have to stop to wipe away tears. I wear reading glasses now, so I can't cry and type at the same time any more.

It was the morning of September 11 that I first knew in my body as well as my mind that deep and absolute conviction that war was just not the answer for anything. In a world where a half-dozen men armed with box-cutters can kill thousands, it becomes clear that no amount of force or the threat of force will ever save life. All killing will do is pile the bodies higher.

Today, I say it with words. On September 11, I felt it in my marrow, in my spine.

Between September 11 and that Columbus Day (ironically, the weekend when the bombing of Afghanistan began) I found the Quakers. I have been a Quaker ever since.

And yesterday morning, as I listened to the news, I felt it again in my core: killing will never make it--make anything--right. I know that the reason the prosecution is bringing forth victim testimony is to try to convince a jury to put Musawi to death. I know that many surviving friends and family members--and other sincere people--believe that this will in some way help to balance a scale or heal...something.

But I also know as deeply as I know anything in this world that killing Musawi is not right, is not justice, and is not going to heal anyone. So many things have changed for me in the five years since that day. I'm no longer a HP; I no longer run a coven; and I no longer teach pastoral counseling. (I am still Pagan--my love for the earth and the Old Gods does not change. But other Quaker testimonies and practices have grown in me, about oaths, clergy, simplicity... and they have changed how I worship, if not what or why.)

This one thing has not changed. Killing is just killing. Just more death. And we will never win our way to peace over more dead bodies... no matter what they have done in life.

Hm. Long entry for a first. But I think it's faithful. I think it's true. I'll let it go at that.


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