The United States will never be the same again; these are watershed days of irreversible change. Surely the events of Sept. 11 will evoke deep reflection on who we are as a people and how we are in the world. A period of national introspection may help us retrieve a measure of hope out of the havoc and begin to transform our relationships with other peoples and nations. Now is the time to ask "Why?" and to address the roots of entrenched anti-U.S. sentiment around the world. There are important lessons to be learned in these dreadful days.
What new or renewed values will infuse our lives from now on? Powerful witness has been given to our belief in the value of each human life, the importance of family and community and the common good. We watched extremely important symbols of power and wealth crumble and fortunes go up in smoke, while millions of people paid no attention because we were so intent upon saving lives and helping each other. Status, rank, and income level disappeared, as did race, religion, and political differences. In the chaos, everyone was equal and equally important. Can we build upon that miracle as we begin again to breathe? Can it transform our way of being as a society and as a nation in the global community?
Will we become more empathetic? Will this terrible experience of not knowing what happened to our loved ones and friends help us to understand the pain of the families of people "disappeared" for political reasons in other countries? Will their courage encourage us now? Will their faith strengthen ours?
Will we promote interreligious and cross-cultural dialogue, drawing on the expertise of those who have given their lives to building understanding across difference in the world?
Will the senseless death and destruction that robbed our communities and families make us see with new eyes the suffering of communities and families in other countries, where we have too often been responsible for their anguish? Will we understand their rage? Will we open up these horrific acts of violence to expose the other forms of violence that birthed them? Will we reexamine the role of our country in the Middle East and Northern Africa? Will we stop the cycle of violence, seeking not vengeance but justice, not retaliation but transformation, not more death but a global commitment to right relationships and human dignity?
In the days ahead, may we resist the overwhelming temptation to revenge-honoring the memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon by pursuing a course of action that is guided by truth, refuses to exacerbate violence, promotes understanding and reconciliation, and leads to genuine justice under international law.
Marie Dennis, a Sojourners contributing editor, is director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns in Washington, D.C.