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From The San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Section
October 8, 2001

A Living Memorial
by Charlene Spretnak

A WEEK AGO I was listening to radio talk show when a distressed young woman called in. She was upset by the apparent subsidence of grieving for the victims of September 11. We were not even at the three-week mark, she noted, yet all conversation and presumably all thought has moved on to considerations of retaliation, policy issues and security measures. She objected not to those necessary discussions but to the ebbing of emotional attention away from the people who had died such horrible deaths. I listened with interest, as I too have been surprised and disappointed to see that many of my acquaintances have "moved on" to the usual "rational" ways of thinking and speaking about current issues, which seems disconnected from our deeper experience of late.

The initial shock and grieving after the terrorist attacks instilled in the American psyche a gravitas, a deep sense of grounding that seemed to slow time in our mad-dash world and draw us into silent reflection rather than quick talk. Thinking felt as if it were weighted in our entire body. It refused to click into easy patterns as we sought to grasp the unimaginable new reality. In that palpable grounding the first week, we were all bonded with the dead and with each other, causing us to reach out to family and friends around the country in shock and loving support. It felt as if our suddenly having to bear the unbearable had delivered us to another way of being, one shaped by the trauma of immense tragedy and the movement into regeneration. Even mainstream commentators noted that the trivial concerns of our consumer culture seemed extremely irrelevant. We had entered a new time and a new psychological space.

Like many women and some men, I am still laying the dead to rest, choosing not to banish thoughts about the reality of all those tender bodies being crushed, incinerated, and otherwise killed. We have read every victim's story and profile we came across. We grieve for the lives cut short because of their inherent worth but also because we do not want our country to lose the profound grounding that those shocking deaths bequeathed to us as a creative legacy. The grieving will properly end one day. The shock will always be with us. Can the potent gravitas of this national tragedy, though, be held in our hearts and minds? Can we make an effort to keep it always present as we participate around kitchen tables and in national forums in deliberating the issues we now face? Can we refuse to separate from political discourse the truth of a grounding deeper than emotion? Can we make this new grounding our living memorial for the victims of Sept. 11?

There is competition for what should constitute a fitting tribute to those who died. The talk-show host, a female, asserted that the dead would be best memorialized by a "vindicating" military victory, a vision that seems to exceed our national consensus for commando attacks on the terrorists' hideouts with no aerial bombings of civilians. Others insist that the dead are best honored by refusing to listen to analyses of the root causes of this terrorism, as if such information excuses the mass murderers.

In truth, many security experts on terrorism are now saying publicly that there is no way America can be safe from a rising generation of terrorists, even if the present networks are destroyed and their members brought to justice in an international tribunal, unless we recognize and address in some manner the various grievances of the Islamic populations. Yet that is exactly the opposite tack taken by the Bush administration in insisting to Congress in late September that our response to the terrorist attacks must be to push "free trade" ahead faster and farther than ever.

Is such a response derived from listening to the outcries of suffering peoples around the world? Are we to imagine they are imploring Washington to force even more American corporate presence in their countries? As "free trade" is currently structured through the World Trade Organization, it has made the people in the developing world feel increasingly dis-empowered and helpless in relation to globalized economic domination by American corporations and those of the other G-8 nations. To accelerate this onslaught as a response to Sept. 11 is crass and, indeed, dangerous opportunism. Far wiser are models of community-based development and regional trade.

As we think about memorializing the dead and deliberate about the many decisions facing our country, may we hold in our minds the deep grounding that infused us in the wake of the tragedy. Separating that deep sense of life from thought and action is what allowed the terrorists to crash passenger planes into occupied office buildings. It results in destructive and even murderous ideologies, now as always.

 

Charlene Spretnak is a co-founder of the Green Party of America and is author most recently of The Resurgence of the Real (Routledge, 1999). She lives in Half Moon Bay and teaches at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

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