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Ilze Petersons of Orono was the program coordinator for the Peace & Justice Center of Eastern Maine from 1995 to 2015.
I remember so clearly the day 19 hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center. It was a beautiful sunny September day and so many of us felt the shock of this attack that cost nearly 3,000 lives. We felt united in our grief and mourned such tremendous loss of life.
All too soon our grief, anger and fear were channeled by the president into dropping bombs on Afghanistan (where the hijackers had allegedly trained) and then to the shock and awe bombing of Iraq based on falsely reported weapons of mass destruction, reports used as the justification for the war whose consequences we face to this day, 19 years later.
This September, I find myself in shock and awed by much greater numbers of deaths than on 9/11. Nearly 190,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus, with African American, Indigenous people and other people of color dying at a much higher rate. The pandemic’s distancing requirements have made it difficult to come together to share our grief, fear, anger and despair as we did after 9/11.
Instead, we have listened to the president downplay the pandemic, dispute scientific facts, mock masks and suggest disinfectant as an antidote. At the same time, I have felt outrage at the killing of Black men and women by police, a reminder of the ongoing legacy of systemic racism built on more than 400 years of genocide of Native Americans and the slavery of Black people.
What can we as individuals do to cope with the massive death, loss of jobs and livelihoods we witness each day? And how do we respond to the droughts, fires, hurricanes and floods that threaten our planet and so many more humanly caused and preventable horrific developments?
I ask myself, “Where is the outrage? Where is the accountability?” All this devastation can be overwhelming and it is tempting to simply turn away. But I know that my humanity and my destiny are bound up with the fate of all those who are suffering. And I know that I can feel powerless when I focus only on my individual efforts.
I have been heartened by the power of the massive peaceful Black Lives Matter protests and the courage and generosity of spirit of front-line workers and volunteers. Joining with like-minded folks helps. I know that it is vitally important to vote in order to challenge those now in power who try to divide us from each other with racism and to distract us with lies and disinformation. But somehow simply voting is not enough.
Joanna Macy, long-time Buddhist scholar and systems theorist and co-author of “Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect our Lives, our World,” has found that it is important to find support with others through acknowledging our shared “Pain for the World.” She says only when we face feelings of grief, sorrow, fear and anger can we tap into the power of love that can motivate us to work with others for true personal and systemic change.
After Sept. 11, 2001, many of us formed a Chain of Concern on Route 2 near Cascade Park in Bangor to express our concern about the consequences of war in response to the terrorist attacks. Let us join together once again this Friday, Sept. 11, at noon, on the sidewalks near Cascade Park to mourn all the lives that have been lost, to express our commitment to peace and justice, and to affirm our concern and love for the world and each other. Please wear masks, keep socially distanced, and bring flowers and signs to express the loss and urge voting and acting with love.