The time to grieve

By Mary Zepernick
"Cape Cod Times", Massachusetts, USA, 21 September 2001

The longer I've lived, the more grief seems like a ball of yarn, larger with each strand wound around it. I've added countless strands as a result of the September 11th atrocity, in the most complex grieving I have ever experienced. Like others, I have needed to be in touch with my local community and folks elsewhere, especially New York and Washington.

Condolences have come from friends and colleagues in Australia and New Zealand; England, The Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland. Most powerful were those from Filipinas, Colombian women, and Israelis and Palestinians together -- places where many live daily with terror, often with weapons courtesy of U.S. "aid."

My grief swings between anger and anxiety, sorrow and depression. I grieve for the victims and for my country, poised to engage yet again in the cycle of retaliation rather than justice. As a widow I was counseled not to make far-reaching decisions too soon. I grieve that our leaders have reflexively trumpeted war, with no attempt to initiate a national dialogue or even allow us time to mourn. Who benefits?

In contrast is a letter from friend Greg, who visited last summer with his wife and daughter: "I had been looking forward to this day. It represented the end of the most painful single year of my life. Exactly one year earlier I attended a memorial service for my wife of 14 years, Marilyn Joachim, who had died suddenly four days before following "minor" and "routine" outpatient surgery.

"It had been a difficult year. The shock, denial and numbness. The fear, anger and depression....The pain. The pain. And the pain."

"September 11 was a day I was looking forward to. It marked the end of an
entire cycle of life markers (birthdays, anniversaries, seasons, holidays). I've made it over a big hurdle. I've experienced everything once. Things should improve, was my thinking....How wrong I was."

"In a very strange, almost surreal, way, I felt I could relate somewhat to what people were feeling and knew maybe what was to come for this country in the days ahead. It will be a similar emotional and mental evolution that I and everyone who has ever experienced the sudden loss of a loved one (if we're committed enough to find the time to grieve and reflect) has gone through."

"In the case of our nation, the loss is a sense of invulnerabiity -- a belief that no matter what is happening elsewhere in the world, it always bypasses the United States....There is a final stage in the evolution of dealing with loss -- growth and compassion. Just as I have a deep fear of the violence to come, I possess a deep hope that this tragedy may result in a maturation of our culture. It may help us better realize that nothing, in the end, is all that safe and secure. Our physical borders, military center and economic heart were invaded despite more weapons, more technology, more bases, and more military spending than most other nations combined. Star Wars would have been equally useless."

Many people are calling for justice rather than vengeance. For starters, rather than amassing international action for an assault, the United States could drop its opposition to an International Criminal Court and other global initiatives.

If instead our country organizes the terrorizing of Afghanis and others, if people take their anger out on Arab-Americans and Muslims, if the U.S. fails to examine its domestic and global economic policies, and if we citizens sacrifice our political and civil rights to jingoism, the September 11th terrorists will win.

Until the U.S. stops supporting such as Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega until they outlive their usefulness, and sponsoring the likes of Osama bin Laden as the CIA did during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, this country will suffer "blowback" (a CIA term for "operatives" turning on their handlers).

And the cycle of violence, grieving and retribution will spiral on. Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center offers a different vision.

"The lesson is that only a world where we all recognize our vulnerability can become a world where all communities feel responsible to all other communities. And only such a world can prevent such acts of rage and murder."

© Mary Zepernick, for the Cape Cod Times