By Chaplain Lt. Col. Carol Highsmith
All of our lives have been impacted by the terrible events of September 11th, 2001. It has been 11 years since that terrible day in history. How has your life changed? I thought it would be interesting to spend some time at the PX, Commissary, and Library and talk to people and learn from them. Their comments were very interesting and insightful.
Someone said, “It’s as though we lost a sense of innocence – eating in large restaurants is not as enjoyable as it used to be.” Another person told me that he experienced a heightened sense of danger – whenever he was in a large crowd. Attending his son’s graduation ceremony, or going to a ballgame caused him to be hyper vigilant. A mom told me that her shopping trips to shopping malls with her friends weren’t as fun as they used to be. And trips to the airports? Gone are the days when family members would leisurely escort grandparents all the way to the plane. Now long good-byes are abbreviated with quick farewells at the security gate.
And then another lady told me, with sadness in her voice, that people seemed to treat her differently. She told me that there were times when it seemed as though ordinary people were uncomfortable in her presence simply because her clothes identified her as a Muslim. Quietly she told me, “you know those attacks affected me too.”
So my question is, how can we turn these difficult reactions into something positive? Or can we? I believe we can through our attitudes. Someone once said, “attitude is the mind’s paintbrush, it can color any situation.” That is so true, isn’t it? Sometimes all it takes for me to let go of my fears is to adjust my attitude. When I am afraid and am tempted to retreat, I do my best to connect with a friend. That simple connection often inspires me to persevere.
We can also choose to smile and laugh more. Karl Barth, a Christian theologian said, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” It is amazing how a few good belly laughs can dissolve heartache and despair. Greeting someone with a smile can even be the catalyst for exchanging old prejudices into genuine care.
One last and most sacred thing is this, when we meet a person of another faith, be kind and respectful. A few years ago I met a neighbor at the swimming pool. By all appearances, we had nothing in common. She was a fully clothed Muslim and I was a scantily dressed Christian girl ready for a swim.
Although we thought that we had nothing in common with the other, fortunately we discovered otherwise. By the end of the summer, our friendship went beyond being artificial. We didn’t allow the circumstances of the exterior clothing squelch the opportunity to get to know one another’s heart. Laying aside our cultural biases we got to know each other. Gradually poolside conversations moved beyond polite hellos to sharing genuine talks in the home over cups of hot tea and cookies.
As you reflect upon how your life has changed, I encourage you to do what I have learned to do. Do your best to turn away from fear and exchange it for trust. Don’t you think eleven years is long enough?