October 9, 2001 -- As the full impact of the barbaric attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon unfolded, we realized that we were witnesses to the worst terrorist attack in history. And even for the majority of us who do not personally know anyone whose life was stolen, the reports out of New York and Washington left a painful spiritual wound.
Events as horrific and terrifying as these attacks tear us from the normal context of our lives and throw us into a seemingly inescapable world of chaos and unknown terrors.
These events destroy, at least temporarily, the connection we feel with reality. We feel lost, alone, and without a way to make sense of the world. It makes it hard, as many people experienced, to focus on mundane tasks and everyday activities. These lose their meaning and make our lives feel as if they are also without meaning.
After tragedies, we often feel a deep need to “do something.” We want to help out and be a part of something. A great deal of what is behind this need is an attempt to restore the torn connections with the world. We are not only trying to keep busy to avoid focusing on the tragedy, but also trying to find a purpose and place in the world by being active in it. By getting out into the world and doing something, we are trying to seek out values and maintain our connection to reality.
Take, for example, the thousands of courageous volunteers for the rescue efforts. Or the millions of dollars that already have been generously donated for disaster relief. These volunteers and contributors may not have lost immediate loved ones, but they recognize that they need to act to protect their values. Even in the face of heartbreaking odds, the purpose and sense of efficacy that the rescue effort gave these individuals propelled them to continue and made life bearable during this tragedy.
Now that the immediate emergency is over, we need to restore our own lives back to their normal conditions. We need to go back to work, back to school, and back to play. But how do we do this? What do we have to reconnect us to the world? We have our values. Our values connect us to the world because we need to interact with and be a part of this world in order to get the values we need. The pursuit and enjoyment of our values defines the meaning and purpose of our lives.
It is hard to think about enjoying your son’s soccer game or to focus on a marketing campaign for your corporation’s newest product. You feel guilty for beginning to enjoy yourself again, whether at home or at work. But you shouldn’t; you have a right to your own life and your own happiness.
This attack was an attack on the idea that life is about seeking this-worldly values and goals. It was an attack on the principle that we do have a right to our own lives and happiness. If we allow ourselves to be frightened from the pursuit of our values or to be scared into accepting restrictions on our liberty, we would be sacrificing our values. It would be a victory for the terrorists and all those who seek to destroy freedom and civilization.
It is in going back to work and to our lives that we bring harmony back to our connection with existence and with others. It is in this sometimes-painful process that we can repair our spiritual wounds and feel at home again in our lives and in our country. And this is the greatest victory possible over the terror and hatred directed at us on September 11, 2001.