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Jewish World Review Oct. 31, 2001 / 13 Mar-Cheshvan 5762

Bill Tammeus

Bill Tammeus
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Many paradoxes in life -- WHAT has become irrefutably clear since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States is that Americans are living in the midst of profound and disturbing paradoxes.

Two of the most important are:

Each of us is trying to find a way to recover from -- or at least adjust to -- our losses, and yet we are beginning to realize that we have been changed permanently and can never return to who we were on Sept. 10.

Religion has provided help for many of us as we recoup, and yet religion (or at least the terrible abuse of it) is also being blamed - with considerable justification - for leading us into this dark time.

If we are finally to find a new balance, to acquire a new sense of comfort and routine and normality, we must adapt to this ambiguity, these paradoxes. So it's worth our time to understand them.

As the weeks have slipped by, most of us have begun to get on with life, even though we've been beset by such additional crises as anthrax attacks.

In my own family, we have held two memorial services for my nephew, a passenger on the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. We have come together and cried and remembered and shared our anger and our sadness. And then we have returned home to the work and the relationships that make up our lives.

Every day - every single day - there has been some reminder that wanton killers, clearly disinterested in their victims, killed my sister's son and thousands of others that evil day. In e-mails, calls, letters, cards and countless other ways, the depth of the loss gets recommunicated.

And yet my nephew's little boy - not yet 2 years old - must be fed, clothed and watched after. And his widow must make decisions, must cope with her new reality.

My grieving sister and her husband have taken time to be with, love and celebrate not only that grandson but also their other grandchildren. My nephew's sisters have jobs to do and husbands to love, and they have been about that.

I myself have work that demands my attention and family responsibilities. It all must be tended to, and there's finally nothing else but to do what must be done - however much our hearts ache, however much we may want to go far away to some quiet place, curl up and cry.

But we are starting to recognize that in some ineffably final way, our lives will never be the same because of our losses. Each day it is clearer that all across the country, children will grow up without parents because marriages have ended forever and that at every family gathering, someone will be missing - and not just temporarily but from now on.

That is the fierce and bitter reality to which we must accommodate ourselves. There is no use pretending life will ever be as it was before.

But life will be something. And a big part of what it will be is whatever we decide to try to make it. That is, if we spend whatever time we have left in life singing only a dirge, life will be mostly lamentation. But if we decide to sing a more joyful song - now no doubt in a minor key that acknowledges our loss - life will be quite different. It's up to us.

The matter of religion is equally perplexing in this wounded era. Immediately after the terrorist attacks, churches, synagogues, mosques and other places where communities of faith gather created opportunities for people to come together in grief and prayer. People of many faiths have offered members of their own and other congregations words of hope and acts of kindness.

Preachers have sought to make sense of evil and have extended pastoral care to their flocks. In many ways, religion has been at its most relevant and helpful in these unbearable days.

And yet we all know that a virulently cruel strain of religion helped form the minds and heartless hearts of the terrorists. As distorters of Islam, they ultimately failed to understand the concept of "taqwa," which involves respect, awe, moral awareness and devotion to G-d. It is a way Islam teaches moral guidance.

Instead, blind allegiance to a twisted view of religion helped create the evil that has overspread us. As a result, what we all must do now is to re-examine the way we approach faith to make sure that arrogant and false certainty is not adding to this malevolence.

These paradoxes are traumatic, but they point to a way through the darkness.

Comment on JWR contributor Bill Tammeus' column by clicking here.

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Reprinted by permission, The Kansas City Star, Copyright 2001. All rights reserved