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Meditation Before Thanksgiving

21 November 2001

We are having a Ramadan Thanksgiving this year.

Ramadan does not overlap with Thanksgiving very often, and this year the combination sticks in our throats. Fasting and feasting. The secular American holiday, the holy Islamic holiday. Turkey dinners for American families, packets of rations and relief supplies for families in Afghanistan. War and peace. Life and death. This is not melodrama or exaggeration. It's the news of the day.

The gap between the haves and the have-nots feels greater than usual. Distances between cultures have grown wider. All of a sudden, places on the planet seem farther apart. Afghanistan doesn't have many telephones or televisions or Internet connections.

Some people want a rest from the world that Sept. 11 brought to our attention, relief from having our lifestyle disturbed. Our national nervous system is so unaccustomed to such distractions that these past 9 weeks of stress is too much to endure. I heard that there is general mental instability in the U.S. as a result of Sept. 11, a rise in anxiety disorders, an increase in domestic violence and child abuse.

There will probably be people who say that if we don't celebrate Thanksgiving with gusto, even with red-white-and-blue trimmings, the terrorists will have won. As if we could eat our way into patriotism.

Maybe this year we should do it differently. We need a Thanksgiving that looks beyond the usual national self-congratulations, beyond the United States, and certainly beyond Americans who will be eating well. The CDC reported in JAMA in September that 56.4% of Americans are overweight, 19.8% are clinically obese. Only one state, Colorado, has an obesity rate under 15%.

We could reflect on this.

Many people are affected by the assaults of September 11, 2001. About 5000 people from 86 countries died, over 6000 were treated in hospitals, over 35,000 people had to physically run from direct death and injury that morning. In October, 79,000 people in New York City reported losing their jobs (NYT, Nov. 16). These people have family and friends, social and business connections, adding up to maybe 50 million people. Many more are affected by various ripple effects.

Many people are in shock and in grief. In many cultures a mourning period is one, two, three years. Modern societies have shortened traditional mourning periods. They say people need to get back to work, back to normal. But their psyches don't always get the memo.

As a society and a country we are at war with terror, terrorism, terrorists. Terrorism is a deliberate calculated effort to terrify/terrorize other people. It is not a fair fight. It is the willful intent to destabilize other people's lives, to unnerve them. It is a form of violence akin to torture. It is terrible.

Americans are using their flag as a tourniquet around their broken hearts, as a string around their fingers to remind them that the U.S. was attacked, as a banner rooting for the battle against terrorists in Afghanistan.

I hear that Phase One is ending. As part of our effort to eradicate Al Qaeda in more than 60 countries we have attacked the Taliban group for sheltering and hosting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. We are also trying to close the financial channels used by Al Qaeda. We are told this war - like the wars on poverty and cancer - could go on for many years.

Most Americans have been insulated from war, poverty, and hunger and know them only from movies and books. We need to talk about such things. More than 95% of the world are not Americans. We need to ponder that fact.

I attended a series of three weekly community conversations about Sept. 11.

"Everyone is going to be pressured to act from their worst self," one woman said. "The challenge is to act from our best self, or we'll drag each other down."

Another woman said, "Life goes on." She means life moves beyond trouble, gets back on track. But, I thought, life is not separate from grief, war, fear, trauma. Life includes it all. "Love the next person," someone said.

Someone said, "If you fear, you can't think clearly."

"We need heartwork to help us make choices," said a woman.

Thanksgiving can be a time for heartwork. Let us speak from the heart before we eat, after we eat. When we go back to work let us work from the heart. Let us be a country that acts from our heart, lives from our heart year-round. Then maybe more people outside America can give thanks for us.

Harris Sussman.

Index page on Response to attacks in US


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