Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reflections of a 9/11 responder

Joseph O. Prewitt Diaz
Nine years ago, to the day, I got up as usual and completed my morning chores. Little did I know that before that day would end I would witness one of the greatest tragedies in recent American history. That afternoon, I found myself on the site of the crash of United 93 in Somerset, PA one of the three attacks on 9/11.  For the next ten days I served as one of the Coordinators of Disaster Mental Health for the American Red Cross the families of the heroes that traveled on that plane.

I have witnessed other acts of hatred in the last two decades: the Oklahoma City Bombing and the Columbine High school massacre to just name two. These events generated feelings of puzzlement, anger, fear and disbelief. None of these feelings were as intense as those that I witnessed in the immediate aftermath of the United 93 terrorist act. Those days I experienced the intensity of emotions expressed by many: fear, anguish, disbelief, anger, and a sense of being violated.

This event happened as a result of a belief system of few, that supports the dictum that violent response and martyrdom frees the human being from inward evils and leads to the path of heaven.

This attack has not been unique to the United States. There have been similar attacks in England, Spain and India. What is different is the reaction of the Government. Soon the frustration of government officials and a nation full of fear was evolving into talk of retaliation. The norm in conversation was to use an ancient law—“an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

The ill-conceived decision to retaliate, the outburst of negative energy has bought as a result many more curses than blessings:
  • Thousands of deaths and injuries, grieving mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, widows, and orphans. 
  • Psychosocial changes in the structure of the home.
  • Children have been exposed to many fears, and anxieties that project themselves into hyperactive and disruptive behaviors in schools, and community.
  • The downturn in our national economy, and trillions of dollars in external debts.
  • Hundreds of thousands of women and men have returned home as wounded warriors. 
The events off 9/11 have forever changed the psychosocial and physical well-being of our nation.
As a young soldier returning from South Asia, I was welcomed with many epithets and the song “Ain’t going to study war no more”. This led me to introspection and the long road to healing, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

As I reflect on the events of 9/11, it has come to my awareness that spiritual actions of a few have caused us spiritual, physical and psychological damages. Our response has to be addressed in the same manner. We failed to yield to the teaching from the Book of Isaiah who said “Let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.”--Isaiah 27:5.

Some would suggest that we acted as gangs act in some of the larger cities to defend their turf. This response needed to be more than a turf war, it required an introspective look at ourselves as a Nation. I wonder what would have happened if we would have tempered our response and initiated a proactive process of reflection about:

  • Who are we as a Nation?
  • What is the image that we project to the rest of the world?
  • What was the meaning of this event and how were we impacted, as a people, in our collective psyche?
  • How do we achieve spiritual and psychological survival, well-being, and safe reconciliation within our national boundaries and externally?
I wonder what would have happened if our religious leaders would have taken a prayerful but assertive action of moving the nation toward submission to God’s will, identification of what would constitute a perception of peaceful actions, and how could we achieve safe reconciliation with those Nations that gave birth, educated, and provided financial resources to our aggressors.  I am reminded in the words spoken in Holy Qur’an: "And if they lean to peace, then lean you too to it, and trust in Allah” Holy Qur'an (8:61).

What actions of forgiveness could have potentially occurred: educational activities, national and internationals forums, reaching out and creating or invigorating bond’s of trust and mutual aid. What about praying (remember President Carter during the Iran hostages situation), dialogue among the diverse religion groups, international teaching programs (such as Experiment in International Living, the Peace Corps), and random acts of kindness (such as the work by Faith based organizations). One such example, although in small proportion is provided by the civil affairs units of the U.S. Army, and most recently by former soldiers who are currently part of RUBICON, an NGO that deploys anywhere within the world, mostly in the Muslim world.

The positive of the 9/11 event can be identified in advances in emergency medicine, physical and behavioral health, international law, and an increase in the knowledge base of the American people.

If you ask me today, the price of war has been too steep. The time has come for us to stop trying to show how physically strong we are and begin to strive towards how spirituality strong we can be. To teach that “Reconciliation is to understand both sides; to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side.” (Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Monk). As the popular hymn encourages us:

Let There Be Peace on Earth and let it begin with me.
Let There Be Peace on Earth, the peace that was meant to be!
With God as our Father, brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony. ( Sy Miller)

[1] Dr. Prewitt Diaz is the recipient of the 2008 APA International Humanitarian Award. During his lifetime he has responded to over 100 major man-made disaster in the United States and other parts of the world.

1 comment:

  1. One American was planning to burn Koran on 11/9 in protest against 11/9. Why not? He was not harming any living being. At an other blog I expressed my view in these words-'I strongly feel that a book cannot be a religion. Religion is virtue humans wear. It does not matter whether we learn it from Koran, Bible, Ramayana or any such book or any such religion. If religions (preachers and books) cannot teach it to their followers, it is better they sit in their homes and leave alone humans to co-exist with modern education. It will be in the interest of all of us.'


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