Saturday, April 20, 2013

Gratitude and Other Solutions

The Boston attack and the media focus on efforts to identify the culprits have upset me and many people I care about, and obviously the people who had to live through the attacks and the aftermath of fear, of staying home while the chase for suspects unfolded.

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Boston, the families who lost loved ones, the people who have been injured, everyone who has witnessed this appalling crime and had prior trauma rekindled (as happens when folks with a history of trauma are exposed to a new traumatic event).

9/11 and related trauma
Some of the people experiencing trauma triggers are Muslims living in the USA. Some of us are very aware of the possible increase in hate crimes directed at members of communities to which the bombers have ties. For days, at the same time as Muslims have been reeling from the attacks themselves, we have been dreading a backlash, the result of collective guilt ascribed to all. And I am not just talking about verbal attacks like the Fox commentator who tweeted about Muslims, "Yes, they're evil. We should kill them all."

The fears are about more than speech, because, as FBI data shows, Muslims are three times more likely to be victims of hate crimes than anyone else. And the violence sends the message that we are not a part of the "us" in "USA." And Muslims, just like everyone else, are susceptible to trauma triggers. And the government itself had some responsibility for collectively blaming entire communities and treating all of its members as suspect by virtue of their ethnicity or religion.

I was here in NYC when 9/11 happened, and I still have flashbacks and anxiety related to the memory. I was attacked along with everyone else in NYC, from the air, by terrorist criminals. And, I was attacked on the ground, by fellow Americans, overhearing their hate and fear (several times hearing, "We need to round up all the Arabs!"), leaving me afraid to go outside and when I did leave my apartment, making sure I had my US passport on me. I remember the fear being so intense I could not engage in events like the candlelight vigils at Union Square to which my friend Daniel invited me to join him in attending.

This week, walking through NYC, hearing sirens, my stomach tensed and I could not understand at first my penetrating sense of dread. Then I connected the dots, and I remember feeling the same way immediately after 9/11: every alarm, every siren, was a harbinger of horror, of another attack. In fact, by day's end Thursday, a particularly difficult day, I was crying from the fear and the stress.

Focus on the solution
Thankfully, today I have several tools to deal with the fear and to manage the trauma. One of them is self-talk. I can reframe the story I tell myself about what the sirens mean (people are prepared to deal with a problem and help is available). So I talked myself through it: I am safe today. The attacks, however horrible, were limited in nature. I will not live in fear. I am resilient. I am a survivor.

I believe in a Gracious and Compassionate Divinity. This is my choice and it has been borne out in my own experience, which has resulted in my dawning awareness that my Divinity is indeed Gracious and Compassionate.

My life is not perfect. I am not perfect. I have my challenges. I am not alone in this (others also face challenges). But just for today, I need not live in fear, nor maintain my focus on a negative. I can accept my fear, as a human emotion that serves a purpose, an evolutionary purpose, to keep me safe and alive. I will not let it rule me. I have a mind, and I have choice. I can take action.

I also reminded myself to write out a gratitude list. It is by no means comprehensive, but is a simple thing I can do. I share it here, presented in no particular order:
  1. I woke up today (another day of life! Thank You, ya Latif!)
  2. I have a roof over my head (another gift!);
  3. I have food in my fridge;
  4. I have family & friends who love me & let me know it;
  5. I get to go to a Retreat & see folks I love, to be a part of building a community that is inclusive & healing, and to explore my faith tradition in a diverse & non-judgmental environment;
  6. I have a growing connection and sense of the Divine, which is called by different Names by different people;
  7. I have access to affordable medicines and quality healthcare;
  8. I live in a place that is not war torn;
  9. I am blessed in more ways than I can count or that I am even aware of at times... 
Just for today, I choose to move forward in faith, acceptance, and gratitude.

I hope this may be helpful to someone out there.

Love, Light, & Peace,

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