9/11 what would happen if we said, enough?

Part of a series in tribute to the 10th anniversary of 9/11

Years ago, I saw the documentary by Wide Angle (PBS) entitled, Ladies First, about the women of Rwanda putting their country back together. One of the most striking segments of the film was about the role that contrition and forgiveness was playing in healing the devastating wounds left over, not only among the Tutsi survivors, but among the Hutu as well. With the majority of the Hutu men in prison for their war crimes and the majority of the Tutsi men dead by the hands of these Hutu men, women had to run their lives, their communities, their economy and their government without them. There was no choice—they would pull their lives and country together or perish.

How did they accomplish this? They had been mortal enemies. There had been enough atrocities committed by neighbor against neighbor that it’s inconceivable to imagine how the Tutsi and Hutu women could have even sat in the same room, much less worked together and cooperated for their collective welfare. They did something that is unimaginable to most of us… the Hutu women asked the Tutsi women for forgiveness for the atrocities their men committed. And the Tutsi women forgave them. I’m not saying that it happened in one day. Or that it was readily accepted. It happened over time, begun by a few individuals.

Another documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, chronicles the journey of the women of Liberia, who’d had enough of the years of war, of losing their children and men, of starving, of living in fear twenty-four hours a day. They determined together to put an end to it. They achieved this the way that women always do—by working together. Christian and the Muslim women put aside their differences and discovered they had more in common than they imagined. They stopped the violence with non-violent protests. They refused to be silent any longer, refused to be intimidated by the men, and even refused to sleep with their husbands until the violence ended. They used prayer, chanting and non-violent sit-ins. They did not back down. They would not go away. This is how they ended the war in their country.

It made me wonder. What if mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers all said, “Enough!”?  Enough violence. Enough sending our sons and husbands off to die. Enough wasting our country’s time and resources on wars that never end.


What would happen if the mothers of Israel and Palestine stood together and said, “Enough”?

Better yet, what if the women of the entire world simply refused to cook or clean or have sex with their men until the war ended everywhere?

I’m sure women across the world have smiled to themselves during a quiet moment stirring a pot of soup, and fantasized about what might actually happen if all women, everywhere, were to simply stop—even for one day—taking care of minor things—like food, shelter, clothing, and raising children. How well could men run all those the important things, like politics, government and business?

© 2011 Stephanie Ericsson


born on the 11th of september

Part of a series in tribute to the 10th anniversary of 9/11

I’m not superstitious. At least not anymore than the normal person. But human beings have always attached some sort of significance to births that happen on particular days… He is a Christmas baby… Born on the 4th of July… She was born on her mother’s birthday… as if the coincidence says something prophetic about the child’s life to come. And sometimes, it actually does.

As a writer, I am guilty of noticing metaphors, which is just an extension of the same thing, only with more thought attached. I’m not claiming that all of those thoughts are intelligent, but they are certainly more intense. I find that sometimes, symbolism is just too coincidental to ignore. I think about patterns and the odds of things happening. I marvel at how obvious it can sometimes be, and I wonder what it all means.

I was born on the 11th day of September in 1953.

On that same day in history in —

    1297 – William Wallace defeated the British in the Battle of Stirling Bridge
    1609 – Henry Hudson discovers Manhattan
    1792 – The Hope Diamond is stolen
    1943 – The liquidation of the Jews began in Minsk & Lida by the Nazis
    1944 – The first Allied troops of the U.S. Army cross the western border of Germany.
    1985 – Pete Rose breaks Ty Cobb’s record for most career hits with his 4,192nd hit

See a pattern? Me neither. What about people born on the same day?

    1885 – D. H. Lawrence, English novelist
    1913 – Bear Bryant
    1935 – Arvo Pärt
    1940 – Brian De Palma
    1977 – Ludacris

Nope. Nada. I bear little or no resemblance to anyone on that list.

Until September 11th, 2001 when my entire country was collectively thrown into the agate-tumbler of grief at the death toll of 2,977 people, exceeding even Pearl Harbor.

That day began a transformation of our culture in much the same way that my husband’s death set off the most profound transformation of my life in 1988.

I never envisioned writing a book about grief. Like most people, I avoided the subject at all costs and steered clear of anyone on such a ‘downer.’

As a child, I was seriously happy-go-lucky. My mother’s nickname for me was Sunshine. To anyone who knew me then, I was destined for a life of puppy-dog tails and cotton candy. Whodathunk that my life’s calling would be to work with people in grief?

But that’s what happened.

James Hillman, in his book The Soul’s Code, In Search of Character and Calling re-visions the way that we think of our tragedies–that they are not tragedies at all, but simply the on-the-job training for what we were born to do. He changed my entire view of my life when he tells a story of how people described a man by saying: The man married his mother… Hillman reconfigures the logic… but what if he chose his mother to prepare him to be married to that woman?

Elsewhere in the book, he describes a therapist whose particular genius is helping people through the darkness in their lives. Her on-the-job training was being forced, as a small child, to stay in a closet for days as punishment. In our traditional Freudian paradigm, we would consider her as deeply damaged from such an experience. We’d shake our heads and say “Such a shame…” We’d think of her as deeply wounded—(read defective, inadequate, blemished…)

And that would be right if you do not figure in the phoenix-factor. But the damage is not who she is. It does not define her in her totality. Human beings are far more than the mere sum of our experiences—particularly our injuries. Furthermore, it isn’t so easy as the stereotype that she made lemonade our of the lemons of her childhood abuse. She forged something bigger than herself out of it that could be given to others. Something that transformed the lives of others. Something that will last far beyond her own lifetime. I’d say that was a calling, wouldn’t you?

September 11th opened up our nation to the deluge of feelings that grief is all about—those things I speak about in Companion Through the Darkness

“Grief is a tidal wave that overtakes you, smashes down upon you with unimaginable force, sweeps you up into its darkness, where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces, only to be thrown out on an unknown beach, bruised, reshaped. Grief will make a new person out of you if it doesn’t kill you in the making.”

Until that day, grief was something in our culture that you quietly hid from others. Grief made you a pariah among our American culture obsessed with all things beautiful and fun. After all, it could be contagious. The grieving were reduced to stories told in bars as ways to pass the time.

After 9/11, people wept openly. They reached out and hugged each other. They told their stories and those who listened did not feel so alone anymore. They volunteered and donated. Some even quit their jobs and reinvented themselves.

These were only some of the ways that my own life was transformed by grief. Over the years, I have companioned many people through their grief, and those numbers continue to grow. Loss is something that will happen to all of us, eventually, so my work is never done. To anyone who hasn’t walked this road, it would be easy to imagine that I’ve grown more serious, even morose. But those who know me know that isn’t true. I’m back to that natural state of joy I had as a child. I’m not afraid of pain anymore. It doesn’t define me. But it has certainly given me an appreciation of life that I never would have had without it.

I believe that collectively, as a nation, we could say the same of September 11th, 2001. It gave us our hearts back.

“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

© Stephanie Ericsson 2011

out of the ashes

 A couple of years ago, a girlfriend sent me this photo with this note attached:

Graffiti at Ground Zero after 9/11
“This was on side of the road at ground Zero in NYC after 9/11. Taken by a gal that I know. It’s one of my favorites. I have the original and often find myself staring at it. Can’t imagine the horror of it all and yet having the courage & guts to spray paint this…bet it was a #cowboyupgurlz…
Her note arrived during my own personal 9/11 when the entire infrastructure of my life had collapsed and I was wandering through my days, confused and stunned like those ghostly, ash-covered pedestrians caught nearby when the Twin Towers collapsed. Notes like this one were lifelines for me. I wasn’t alone. And I wasn’t dead. I could cling to the love of our “#cowboyupgurlz club” of women who also had risen from a pile of ashes. 
When the playing field of life is flattened, the way it was for our whole nation on 9/11/2001, nothing else is important except saying, “I love you” before it’s too late.  
©2011 Stephanie Ericsson