Do our life experiences—whether of grief, loss, anger, or even deep joy—teach us how to grow in insight, to become stronger, to expand our compassion? Or do our experiences wind us more deeply into the spirals of emotion, causing separation, isolation, arrogance, or fear?
Much has been lost in war and separation. Much continues to be lost. Within each of us are twin energies ever tugging upon each other, or working in concert, or, more often, fighting for domination. In my tradition, these twins are not forces of good and evil, and eradicating one does not help the other to grow in ways that are conducive to the fostering of our full humanity. Rather, the forces inside ourselves that seem to be in opposition only grow healthy through contact with each other, through a proximity that leads to deeper understanding. When this occurs, some new, third force, can be born. In magical traditions, this is sometimes seen as the Divine Androgyne who brings together all things: dissolving and reforming, male and female, day and night, under and over, sky and earth. This being is not just a bridge, but a synthesis, and a reconciler.
We have had little reconciliation. When the soul—or a culture—consistently upholds the battle between opposing forces in service of the hopeful triumph of one and eradication of the other, there is no chance for understanding. There is no chance for something new to be born within us or of us. We are caught in the same stories over, and over. There is little room for change.
When September 11 rolls around, I am often teaching in Europe. It is just the way my schedule seems to fall, and this year is no exception. One year around this time, I happened to be in Darmstadt, Germany where they ring bells at noon to mark September 11, 1944. That was the day that Britain released a firestorm of incendiary bombs upon the city, killing around 12,000 people and leaving another 60,000-70,000 homeless. Like Dresden, for which this was a trial run, Darmstadt was just a city, not a military target. What feels significant to me about Darmstadt is not simply the coincidence of the date being the same as the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but also that Darmstadt can be seen as a city of the twins I spoke of. Not only was this a city that was the first to force Jewish shops to close after the Nazi party came into power and sent its 3,000 Jewish citizens there to their deaths, but also, it was home to some of the most prominent figures of resistance to the Nazi regime. The descendants of this town hold both streams within themselves: oppressor and resistor. They also hold all those who may simply have been afraid.
I am not writing today about right and wrong. We can tell those stories again and again. We play them out in endless wars with each other and within ourselves. What I am interested in is the possibility of coming together, of the sort of thing that was so profoundly attempted in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Committee, where opposing forces sat together around the same table. I am not certain we can do this with the very extreme polarities that gave rise to this situation, but perhaps we can begin with some opposition that feels closer in. Perhaps we can start today within ourselves, with feelings of grief and righteous anger.
Restorative justice is a reconciling force, the Divine Child birthed from opposition. Restorative justice will never be found in endless rounds of punishment and retribution, not in our families, not in our cities, not in our countries, not even in ourselves.
What might help us to take a risk and step outside the ongoing stories of grave injury and loss that give rise to the stories of vengeance? What might help us to a deeper understanding?
We need to reconcile with one another. To do so requires a courage sometimes barely imaginable, and yet we see examples of it every day. We see it each time a firefighter runs toward a burning building. What will we do next time we are on fire?
9/8/2011 4:00:00 AM