Nearly two decades ago on September 11, 2001, an event occurred that changed the direction of this nation and perhaps the direction of the world. Whatever the causes and the intricacies of that event, the result was the death of nearly 3000 people and the destruction of some iconic national symbols. Everyone remembers that day and those events. And with time we have begun to see our responses to that event and the consequences and collateral damage of that response as inevitable and predictable, and perhaps even totally appropriate, as though there had been no other option than to strike back with war and violence.
There were, of course, other options. One result of that event was that the hearts of the world reached out to us almost immediately. They recognized the pain and sadness that accompanied that event, but they did not conclude that war was necessary. They knew that there was another side to America, it was the side that valued human rights and diplomacy. It was the side that recognized that in our powerful position we were capable of rising above those destructive impulses to find a more humane way through that tragedy.
As always, the choices of the moment set a direction and a tone and have consequences and ripples that continue, often becoming a path and a way to deal with future problems.
As in Robert Frost's poem, the choice of the "path less travelled" can make all the difference.
Leadership is crucial. It takes real courage to rein in a desire to rush to judgement, often making assumptions without taking all the facts into consideration and to strike back with a combination of defensiveness and striking out at perceived threats. Measured responses are often harder, but in the long run end up being better at resolving the issues.
However, the Dark Gods are always lurking under the surface, waiting for a moment to emerge, and, once released from the Pandora's Box of emotionality, are very difficult to control as they take on a life of their own. The blood and violence provide a visceral satisfaction, which speaks to our basest instincts of destroying perceived threats first and only then dealing with the consequences. It is a slippery slope. Blood begets blood and violence begets more violence. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, feeding on itself. It is easy to find opportunities for financial profits in those excesses. Endless national treasure is spent in pursuit of "victory", whatever that might mean.
Both sides begin to believe the adage, "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth", leaving humankind eyeless and toothless, as in Malcolm Arnold's poem "Dover Beach", about blind and endless war.
'And we are here as on a darkling plain, Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.'
Another option is to rise above; to accept the reality of the destruction and to use it as an impetus for creative rebirth, to reform, to be better and stronger; accepting the change and using it as an opportunity to rebuild a better world out of those ashes, symbolized by the Phoenix. The Phoenix symbolizes the energy, strength, resilience, and the potential of transformation, as it rises from its own ashes to reach greater heights. It can be recognized as refining and strengthening the core, the inner heart of a people to rebuild and come back as not only stronger, but wiser and better suited to deal with the realities of an ever-changing world. It is about building and not destroying. Mutual destruction is not a reasonable option while domination and occupation are hardly sustainable since they simply suppress a foe who only waits for another opportunity to be redeemed.
The only sustainable solutions are solutions that are mutually acceptable, that form a basis for cooperation, growth and harmony, and they can only be found with great internal strength.
Tragedy is disorienting. Taking a moment to understand the situation and consider other viable options takes courage and strength of character. However, reacting blindly with violence and war, and in the process, releasing the Dark Gods of blood and vengeance, we begin to lock in a path toward a future based on war and violence, blood and vengeance, a future that will lead to unintended consequences and too much collateral damage. Taking that moment may allow time to recognize the power of the Phoenix, rising above that tragedy to allow much more positive and productive options and to find more reasonable and humane solutions to great tragedy.
Symbolically the ashes still remain, and the Phoenix is forever hiding within them, ready to rise whenever called upon.