The New 60: What is Patriotism?

BY Robert Levithan

May 09 2011 7:15 PM ET

COMMENTARY: A few years ago I counseled a lovely woman who came to Friends In Deed after her 15-year-old son was shot to death while going to the deli for milk. He was not the intended target of the bullet.

During our sessions, this brokenhearted mother asked me for my opinion on a troubling dilemma: “My friends and family say that I should hate the boy who shot my son. Is there something wrong with me: I don’t feel hate. Only sadness — for my son, for us, for that boy. Am I wrong?”

The true response came from my own heart: “Your forgiveness is grace.”

During the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa, forgiveness trumped revenge. South Africa made the transition from oppressive, white minority rule to inclusive black majority rule without significant violence. That is grace on a huge scale. It is possible.

My aunt was murdered in 1985. I saw the World Trade towers fall from my lower Manhattan building. Tragic events are difficult to integrate into everyday life. As a character in the play Rabbit Hole says about the death of a son years earlier: “It was a boulder on my shoulders; now it is a brick in my pocket…” We can go on and forgiveness is crucial: Not that what has occurred is OK, but that it is put down. I have left the largest part of my grief in the past. The brick in my pocket is enough.

Therefore, I am not dancing in the streets because Bin Laden is dead. I am sad. I am moved to remember the Americans who died on September 11—and I am also moved to remember the hundreds of thousands of Afghanis and Iraqis who have died or been left homeless and displaced in the aftermath — not to mention our own killed and wounded soldiers. I mark this occasion with solemn reflection.

I am grateful that our President has behaved with restraint and dignity.

The media images of thrilled, jubilant crowds, in my opinion, are more likely to cause a backlash of terrorism than cow our enemies. Religious and patriotic fundamentalists propagate more violence with and eye for an eye — a never ending cycle of destruction.

This week, several clients came to me fearing that their unease with the celebratory images would make their patriotism suspect. How limited we are if compassion, even-handedness and taking responsibility for our part in things could be seen as un-American. If we are to reclaim our good-guy image on the international scene, we must present a new 21st century model for strength: Honesty, integrity, compassion, willingness to correct for error, to make amends and to be sad at the loss of human life — all human life.















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