From Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat: This is the original introduction to our prayer/poem "Rest in Peace" which was written during the afternoon of September 11, 2001. It explains our thinking as we were writing the poem and the inspiration for its "I am" form.
9/11/01. How do we see this terrible event from a spiritual perspective? How do we respond with words and images to the complexity and magnitude and mystery of this day of death and destruction? From the news reports and interviews with public figures, we are already being barraged with outraged and angry rhetoric. The attacks are being called an "act of war," the worst attack on America since Pearl Harbor, a day of infamy, the very worst of human nature. Some are demanding a swift and merciless retaliation, even before we know who was behind these terrible acts.
All the world's religions encourage us to forgive those who have hurt us, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for those who abuse us. Christians recall Jesus' admonition to love our enemies. Jews cling to the practice of shalom. Muslims rely upon Allah, the most compassionate and the most merciful, to guide their relationships with others. In the aftermath of the tragedy, leaders from all spiritual traditions have condemned the violence, pointing out that no cause justifies such immoral acts.
After searching our souls, we have found ourselves drawn back to the spiritual practices of compassion, connections, and unity conveyed so beautifully in Thich Nhat Hanh's classic poem "Please Call Me by My True Names." (See a visual meditation and reading of the poem from Vol. 6 of the Spiritual Literacy DVDs)
This Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist has seen the suffering of war firsthand and written often about the attitudes that lead to real peace. He refuses to divide the world into easily identifiable victims and villains. With powerful prose and vivid imagery, he reaches out to take into his heart all those who are suffering — the innocent and the violent, the powerful and the powerless, the oppressed and the oppressors. In "Please Call Me by My True Names," he practices radical empathy as he identifies with a frog and the snake that eats it, then with a starving child in Uganda and the arms merchant who sells deadly weapons to Uganda. In a very poignant passage, he describes himself as a 12-year-old girl raped by a sea pirate and as the pirate whose "heart [is] not yet capable of seeing and loving."
No one, Thich Nhat Hanh demonstrates in this poem, can be excluded from our thoughts and prayers. Even elements of the natural world and things are to be cherished as recipients of our compassion. Even the perpetrators of horrible violence are part of the many names we call ourselves. "Please call me by my true names," he pleads, "so I can see that my joy and pain are one . . . and the door of my heart could be left open, the door of compassion."
We live in a city in shock and grief. We identify deeply with the pain of our neighbors. We share the joy at news of reunions taking place and rescues being accomplished. We are disquieted by the loss of life, the destruction of a section of the city we know and love, the disruption of so many lives, and the palpable fear and numbness gripping Americans and others around the world. Yet we are also disquieted by the mood of hate spreading across the land, by the rush to judgment, the need to immediately affix blame, and the very real likelihood that an entire group of people will be demonized and stereotyped because of the acts of a few. How do we respond?
We pray for the victims and those who are trying to help them. We pray for the dead, may they rest in peace, and their families and friends, may they know peace. We pray for those seeking to learn who was behind these attacks, may they be clear-headed and thorough. We pray for our government leaders, may they have the wisdom to handle this crisis without contributing to further violence. We pray for the people of the world, may we learn what needs to be learned from these overwhelming events, and may we respond to them in the best way possible with the help of the One who sustains us all.
We pray — and we offer this poem. Please call us by these names so that we may open the door of compassion.