Donagh, First, I love your website. I browse it frequently ---it is very thought-provoking and helpful as I go on in this journey called life. And your books (I Remember Your Name in the Night, In a Fitful Light, Take Nothing for the Journey) are great!
As an American, I would like to know your thoughts on the events that have transpired this past week. Are there any "today's good news" when people are tragically being killed, I live in fear, I have a lot of anger and hate in my heart, and we are on the verge of war? Right now a lot of us Americans are emotionally-charged (patriotism maybe?), and so some of us are not thinking too straight (like me!). Help us see these events in a proper perspective, and for once in a very long time, provide us some of "today's good news"!
Longing for Good News
Dear Robert, It’s good to hear from you again, but the circumstances are unspeakably sad. We will always remember September 11 as we remember November 22, 1963; and we will not only remember the date but also where we were and what we were doing when the terrible news broke. I went to church with my brother and his family on the following Friday, which was a national day of mourning in Ireland. We are getting used to half-empty churches, even on Sundays; but in that vast church on that Friday there was standing-room only. This was how it was throughout Ireland and in countless other places too.
Words are a thousand times inadequate, but that silent presence of millions of people throughout the world is an affirmation of human feeling and solidarity - so badly needed after the very notion of humanity has been so brutally attacked. In the ordinary dimensions of evil we can ‘rely’ on a baseline of selfishness: every criminal wants something for himself, and we can somehow deal with them on that basis. It’s the ugly side of human nature, but it is human nature. However, with suicide bombers that baseline falls away and we don’t even know how to talk or reason with such people. Their actions are off the scale of evildoing. This adds a feeling of helplessness and bewilderment to the anger and sadness that we feel.
The awful reality is that they are human: the scale is wider than anyone knew, or knew clearly. In the 17th century Blaise Pascal wrote movingly about discovering the greatness and the baseness of humanity, and how these discoveries go hand in hand. Already within one week, many are talking about the deeper bonds of humanity that have arisen, the heroism and the love. The human spirit is unconquerable. In Ireland we have had thirty years of terror - on a smaller scale, yes, but it tastes the same to the individuals who are directly affected. And I have noticed that it is those most directly affected who first learn to forgive. This in itself is very mysterious. I have always felt that when we are in the presence of such a person we are in the presence of God. It is the ground of hope for humanity.
May I quote from an article that a friend sent me from the US.
"In the aftermath of Tuesday's heartbreaking events I have been leaning on the words of my heroes…. I think of Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and our own American hero, Martin Luther King, Jr….
"I believe that these people would tell us that strong and just action in the face of evil is legitimate. But they would also say that such action must not mirror the terrorist's actions. They would say that we have a historic opportunity to demonstrate a different kind of action, and in doing so to unify and heal our global community. This is what Martin Luther King called a "double victory." In speaking to those who sought violence against him and his dream, King said, "We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."
This is direct evidence of that greatness of the human spirit that Pascal spoke of. No one knows yet how to speak and reason with a suicide bomber, and it is correspondingly difficult to forgive. It is hard to see any evidence of either heart or conscience in a terrorist. By the time he becomes a terrorist it is too late. But there are people in his society - though hardly in his organisation - who think and feel and know that such foul deeds are a shame on the human race. To reach out to them is the great challenge.
It is the people on the spot who have the best right to speak to you. So I leave the remaining space for the author of the article.
"People have asked me how each one of us might contribute in some way to the spirit of healing. In my own life, I prefer to "think globally, act locally." Here are some "local" things each one of us can do:
". . . pray for those who lost their lives in such frightening and violent ways. Pray for those grieving the loss of family members and friends. Pray that the cities of New York and Washington, DC, and the people who live there, recover their trust and their zest for living. Pray that the leaders of the United States and other nations will use restraint and wisdom as they search for answers and justice in this crisis.
". . . make time during these days to slow down, quiet your mind, and open your heart to the grace and wisdom of a higher force. Be mindful of your own reactivity and judgments. It is so important to be guided by a steady and quiet heart, not fear or speculation. Fear breeds the kind of actions we witnessed on Tuesday. When you feel waves of terror rising within you, stop for even a few breaths, and listen to the quiet voice of peace that is the harbinger of wisdom. And when you feel the strong pull of anger and the very human urge to retaliate, rest gently for a while in a love that transcends bitterness and hatred.
". . . resist focusing only on blame. Search deeper, for the causes of pain in the world. For even as we bring these particular madmen to justice, so too we can root out the madness in a world that perpetuates hunger, torture, poverty, inequality, and environmental destruction. What happened on Tuesday is connected to what happens everyday to people within our country and those far from America's shores. Truly we are all one people.
". . . dedicate your life to spreading love in your daily interactions at home and work. Do not be afraid to take a stand for love. In his famous letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King wrote, "Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter, I eventually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love? 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you.' Was not Amos an extremist for justice? 'Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.' Will we be extremists for hate or for love?"
We are all with you in this sad and terrible time.
God bless you, Robert