Having had a spiritual awakening, carry the message to the world and practice it in all one’s affairs.
Craig Scott Amundson was twenty-eight years old when he died on September 11th, leaving his wife Amber and their two small children. "For the last two years," wrote Amber, "Craig drove to his job at the Pentagon with a ‘Visualize World Peace’ bumper sticker on his car. This was not empty rhetoric or contradictory to him but part of his dream. He believed his role in the Army could further the cause of peace throughout the world."
Wracked with grief, Amber nevertheless had the presence of mind two weeks after her husband’s death to say in no uncertain terms that answering the death of innocents with the death of innocents was morally reprehensible: "To those leaders I would like to make it clear that my family and I take no comfort in your words of rage. If you choose to respond to this incomprehensible brutality by perpetuating violence against other innocent human beings, you may not do so in the name of justice for my husband. Your words of revenge only amplify our family’s suffering, deny us the dignity of remembering our loved one in a way that would have made him proud and mock his vision of America as a peacemaker in the world community."
On the day of Craig’s memorial, Amber’s sister Kelly Campbell turned on the television. It was the day America started bombing Afghanistan. "I wanted to think about Craig, but I couldn’t help but think about all the innocent lives that were about to be lost."
On behalf of Craig and her sister, Kelly joined three others who had lost loved ones on September 11th and traveled to Afghanistan to offer what they could to the victims of the American bombing. She was especially moved by a six-year-old child who had become mute with terror after a bombing raid had killed eight neighbors. "Nobody knows why the neighborhood was bombed except that it is near the Kabul airport, which they supposed was the intended target."
Returning to America, these brave men and women have called for a fund to compensate the victims of our bombing similar to the efforts to aid those who lost loved ones on September 11th.
Long before the dust at the World Trade Center began to settle and even before the dead were buried, a hallucination began gathering within which we’ve struggled to make sense of a horrible event. The addict conflates justice with revenge, makes war for oil, lies about it and manipulates public confusion to cast an aura of legitimacy to an unelected President. What is so striking about the story of Amber and Kelly, and what characterizes Step Twelve, is the lucidity and directness with which they act and think outside of the hallucination.
Americans trust this kind of common sense, know it to be solid because it relies on inarguable common humanity. To refuse to lie and to live by truth: an Afghan life is not worth less than an American life, the terror of an Afghan child should call upon the same regard as any child’s terror. Euphemisms such as "collateral damage" make our victims faceless and expendable.
Common sense. Common humanity. The common labor of healing and sustaining the world. These twelve steps can be seen as a pilgrimage to realizing and living by the quality of mercy. "God was in this place and I did not know," says the scripture, but now we do know. This place where God is is called Mercy, and it is the eye of calm within a merciless storm. Here we have stepped outside of the predictably bloody paradigm of Us versus Them. All one’s activity has become Spirit’s opportunity to heal.
Amber wrote, "I call on our national leaders to find the courage to respond to this incomprehensible tragedy by breaking the cycle of violence." As we have seen, this cycle of violence generates from an addiction that pervades our private and public lives. In Step Twelve we join those who have marked this path for us, American to the core: Bill Brown, brought to his knees by the extremity of the liquor; and Jim, stunned at three a.m. in his hospital bed, realizing that as ugly as he knew himself to be, that he was forgivable; Mr. Begay, having slashed his lover’s face, gives the liquor back to Coyote and gives his will over to the Great Spirit; Hannah, anguished that she had violated her son with the same rage and humiliation that had violated her as the daughter of an alcoholic; Tony, confessing the casual killing of a Vietnamese man and the long story of his life as a junkie;
Hannah, now, her bemused son alongside her as she inches towards the waters of baptism; Benjamin, astonished to have a heart that could feel compassion, offering to God the cruelty of the life he had led; Richard, who had loved the beauty of bombing Vietnam, weeping in the arms of a Vietnamese monk; Guido, so utterly in love with the sound of his voice and his quick wit learning eventually how to communicate with another human being; Malcolm X on his knees in prison and then in Mecca, giving up hatred; Amber, writing her fierce words to America in the wake of September 11th – do not kill in my husband’s name; and her sister, Kelly, tending to the children in the ruins of Kabul.
We are all familiar with the language of war. War has its own compelling logic, gods, rites of initiation, blood offerings and poetry.
September 11th has thrust the West and Islam into a looking glass epic with seductive stories of brave men and their heroic selflessness. Leaders like George Bush and Osama bin Laden share a common worldview in which peace descends after Evil is defeated in an apocalyptic battle. Both sing the same song: God will lead our warriors to victory against the forces of darkness.
Eisenhower had a more expansive vision of human possibility:
"As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war — as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years — I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight. To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration: "We pray that people of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its spiritual blessings; that those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibilities; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; that the scourges of poverty, disease and ignorance will be made to disappear from the earth; and that, in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love."
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.
The meanings of our lives are embedded in circles of kin and strangers. I offer this letter to whoever will pass it from hand to hand in these desperate times.
Reproduce it, quote it, publish it, translate it as you will. It is available at www.gatheringin.com where you can sign up for its sequel Overcoming Terrorism: The Looking Glass War, to be posted by September, 2002.
The twelve step model is obviously applicable to other concerns. I encourage colleagues to adapt it to, for example, matters of gender, the Israeli/Palestinian conundrum, our war on the earth, and so on.
About the Nganga Project All proceeds from the publication of this essay go to the Nganga Project
Representing the work of an international peacemaking community, the Nganga Project is a hands-on, person-to-person program committed to supporting and sustaining traditional healers and their communities in Africa as well as helping to preserve these living cultures so critically endangered by poverty, inter-racial and ethnic conflict and the demands and circumstances of modern life.
In addition the project seeks to create dialogue and collaboration between practitioners of western medicine and the healing arts in North America for their mutual benefit and enlightenment.
Michael Ortiz Hill is initiated into the peacemaking tradition of the Shona and Ndebele people of Zimbabwe and a registered nurse at UCLA Medical Center. He is the author of Dreaming the End of The World (Spring, 1992) and co-author with Augustine Kandemwa of Gathering in the Names (Spring, 2002). He is married to the novelist and healer Deena Metzger.