It’s hard to believe that 17 years have passed since the fateful day when our understanding of peace changed in America and beyond. Those three planes filled with hate that decimated so many lives and destroyed even more hearts hit their targets on this day in 2001. Many people still live in a pre-9/11-vs.-post-9/11 world. Most still vividly remember where they were and what they were doing when thousands of lives were annihilated. Our world changed that day.
Throughout history, horrific things have occurred that have changed our world and our view of it. As our country has recently honored the legacy of Sen. John McCain, we got to know more about his role as a fighter pilot and then prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. Every time I sit with the notion of what he experienced, I shudder. McCain was shot down in Hanoi. His arms and one leg broke upon impact of his plane crash. He was held hostage for 5 1/2 years, three of them in solitary confinement. And he survived. That war divided our country and our citizens’ understanding of right and wrong in the face of war. Sen. McCain became an emblem of forgiveness as well as a fierce proponent of a strong military.
And so it has been over the generations. Wars occur for myriad reasons. Friction abounds. People are killed and kill others. Some, like McCain, stand out in their efforts to capture peace after unimaginable despair. In the end, what do we learn? I am not being a cynic or a philosopher here. I think it is wise for each of us to think about what we have learned when we face war. What comes of armed conflict for the everyman and everywoman in our country and in our world? Which is better — nonviolent protest or armed protest?
I like to break these ideas down to what we as individuals can consider and do, because that’s where I believe we can claim our power. What do you do when faced with a conflict? Are you quick to jump to conclusions about who your opponent is and how he or she views the world? Are you particularly judgmental when you feel that your rights are being challenged? Many of us are. Are you the person who is willing to listen to the other side and search for a fair compromise? Or are you more likely to throw a punch — verbally or physically — if someone confronts you about something that you consider beyond compromise? How do you handle tense, volatile situations?
These questions are important for us to consider. The answers have everything to do with how we navigate our lives during difficult periods. Right now, there is a tremendous amount of fire in our country — some literal, a lot political. Where do you stand in that fire? Are you stoking the flames or helping to put it out? Have you developed the ability to negotiate for your values without the urge to destroy those who do not share them?
I will go back to John McCain: Here was a man who was in our Navy, who was fighting for the cause of the American government, who was tortured for years and who spent much of the rest of his life looking for ways to mend the relationship between the United States and Vietnam. He had every right to be mad and feel hatred for people who hurt him repeatedly. He chose not to do that. Can you hold out an olive branch to those who have wronged you? Can you find a way to push past hurts and pains to find a path toward peace in your daily life? Think about it. Select a real situation that has been plaguing you and consider it differently. What if you could forgive the offender and forge a more peaceful future? Try it.