How I Became a Peace Activist

Nine years ago this morning, I became a peace activist.

Without a doubt, September 11, 2001 is the defining moment of our generation. Millions watched on tv as two planes did the unthinkable and flew into the World Trade Center. Guts were wrenched, lives were lost, and our wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and "On Terror" were launched. In my life, it was the moment that my priorities shifted and I tuned into what I think is my purpose on this earth ... to work for peace in the little ways I can.

I was in Portland, Oregon that morning getting ready for work and listening to NPR as was my routine. As I stood in the bathroom brushing my teeth, the radio announcer suddenly lost the ability to speak. I knew something was wrong in the world and rushed to turn on the tv, just in time to see the 2nd plane hit.

In a daze, I somehow found my way to work. My heart was broken, and I couldn't help but think that more death and destruction would follow as our country tried to make sense of it all and look for revenge. An eye or an eye, a tooth for a tooth, your children must die because mine did. What I didn't expect was that those around me, those I worked with and even close friends would be catching the revenge bug. I felt so out of place, so out of tune with my surroundings. All of my coworkers' cubicles were festooned with American Flag signs and revenge filled slogans ... I made my own sign with a peace dove. Whenever I opened my mouth and talked about my concerns that more innocent lives would be lost across the globe in retaliation, people looked at me like I had two heads. What kind of American was I?

Luckily for me (and I suspect it was more God than luck), I found my way into two communities where I didn't feel like a freak for my desire to work for peace. First, an artist friend of mine shared her vision to help get this advertisement on the sides of buses. It features a beautiful picture of some Afghan children and a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: "When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent misery rather than to avenge it?". It completely captured the movement of my own heart in those dark days. I offered to help her raise money to get the ad on the buses and to set up a website. Our local bus company at first refused to sell us ad space on the buses because the message was too political! I used my bureaucratic background to help convince them otherwise, and the ads were eventually placed on 5 City buses in Portland.

I also found my way into an interfaith peace group that was meeting at the local Friends Meeting House. These were my people, and I started to get involved in our local peace movement. Eventually I got tired of being the only Catholic at the table and looked into restarting our local Pax Christi chapter. Before I knew it, I'd become a bureaucrat by day and a peace activist in all of my other waking hours. One day it dawned on me that I should do something about that, which played a big part in the journey that has me here getting ready to celebrate another anniversary, my second as a vowed member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace.

It's nine years later, which is hard to believe. 2,933 people died as a direct result of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Hundreds of thousands more have died or been injured in life altering ways in the two wars that followed (and still continue).

The past few years, it has seemed like this anniversary has gone by not completely, but somewhat unnoticed. This year, with the overt combat operations in Iraq finally finished and the controversy of the Islamic Community and Mosque planned a few blocks from the World Trade Center, it's getting much more coverage. But why is it, I wonder, that the vibe today feels much more like it did 9 years ago ... we seem even farther from peace in our hearts, peace between nations, peace between people of all faiths and spiritual traditions.

And so, on this 9th anniversary, I pray. I pray for lives lost and forever changed, both in terrorist attacks and wars on terror. I pray for tolerance and peace in our national dialogue. I pray in hope and gratitude for people of good will from every nation, race, creed and way of being. That peace may come, that we may help to bring about that peace. Amen.


dmkorman said...

A great post… and so appropriate.

Like you, I immediately feared indiscriminate retaliation that would result in more innocent persons being killed or injured. Unfortunately, our fears were realized.

So many statues and tributes to the military, and so little appreciation for peacemakers among us!! The words so readily spoken in houses of worship seem, too often, to be ineffectual- neither able to be realized beyond the walls, nor penetrate the congregants’ hearts.

Amen and amen to your prayer.


Anonymous said...

I too, was greatly impacted by the happenings of 9/11. Initially, I had a sense of disbelief. "I can't believe this is actually real. It seems more like a movie than real life."

I quickly began to wonder how these events might impact Muslims in the United States. I decided to try to get a sense of how it might feel to be a Muslim during that time. So, for two weeks following 9/11, I wore a hijab (headscarf) whenever I went out in public, even to church, even to my daughters' high school.

People really didn't understand what I was doing. I didn't really understand what I was doing--I just had a sense that I needed to do it. It's hard to express how or why, but those two weeks of wearing the hijab everywhere impacted me in a huge way. I did, and do, long for peace.

In recent months, I've considered wearing the hijab again for a time. And you know what? Now I'm afraid to.