Monday, September 12, 2011

One Choice at a Time

Like the Kennedy Assassination, everyone who lived through it remembers where they were on September 11th. I drove innocently to school as usual and came in to all the teachers huddled in the head of school’s office. Seeing my puzzled look, they told me “We’ve been attacked.” After a moment of recovering from the shock, they explained “We’re trying to figure out how to handle this with the kids” and I replied, “Well, I don’t think we’re going to get together and sing songs.” And they answered, “That’s exactly what we need to do.”

Of course, they were right and of course, I knew that. Music’s power is to create order out of chaos, to create community where there is isolation, to garner power when we feel powerless, to unite where we feel divided, to help heal where we feel broken. We did indeed sing songs that day 10 years ago and now, music was again a way to remember as the annual free Opera in the Park combined with various speakers to acknowledge, remember and commemorate the 10th year since this horrific event.

After a few speakers, the orchestra played Mozart’s “March of the Priests” from the Magic Flute and members of an Inter-Faith Council—Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslim, Bahai, Ohlone Indians and more—processed toward the stage to join police, fire-fighters and an ROTC Color Guard. Everyone spoke from their point of view—the police about the 50 million dollar grant to improve emergency communication, the religious leaders about finding refuge and comfort in God, the firefighters about the bravery of the first responders, with particular attention to Rick Rescorla, the security guard who helped evacuate some 2,000 people from the towers and who is the subject of SF Opera’s premier “Heart of a Soldier.”

But the best speaker by far was a Muslim woman who talked about this all in the broader context of a human problem, of what happens when ideology is coupled with greed, hatred and violence. The attack on the twin towers was just one in a long line of humanity’s legacy of sanctioned cruelty, some of which she named—the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, Native American genocide, the slave trade, the Holocaust. She might have (but she didn’t) mentioned another September 11th event in Chile in 1973 when the democratically elected President Salvador Allende was overthrown in a coup d’etat by the Chilean military, aided by the CIA and endorsed by the U.S. government. The dictator Pinochet took over and established a military dictatorship for the next 17 years, leaving behind a bloody trail of violence, murder and severe human rights violations.

All of the above were officially condoned by the religious leaders of the time and accepted or carried forth by the political leaders. Bin Laden was just one in a long line and rather that treat this as an isolated incident, the speaker called for people of all faiths and patriotic alliances to root out this abuse of religious and democratic ideals, this justification of death and destruction in the name of God and/or Freedom, to restore the worthy ideals of each religion and democratic government toward inclusion, harmony and peace. Good honest words worthy of the event.

And then came the music. Mozart’s Requiem. What an extraordinary work of art. I sat straight-backed and cross-legged on my zafu Zen pillow in the warm sun, the trees behind the stage, the thousand-plus people in rapt silence and from the first note, my eyes were wet and my nerves were tingling. That man can write! The evocative opening notes outlining the subtle harmonic progression and the tender long tones of the woodwinds, the crescendo and tympani announcing the choir and in they come and my body shakes with the power of the sound and the depth of the feeling. And off they go, winding through the maze of Mozart’s genius. The solo soprano brings us to heaven for a moment, the men re-enter to bring us back to the vale of suffering and sorrow on this earth. The counterpoint begins, the lines weaving and crossing and as each line ascends, my spine straightens, feeling that Kundalini energy rising, brought to life by music’s vibrations.

And so it continues for the first two movements, tears streaming down my cheeks, the music playing in every sinew and nerve ending and bone in my body and the full catastrophe and heroism and “never again” determination of all the September 11ths we flawed humans have created finding the only voice that makes sense—music exquisitely crafted and expertly performed, in company with birds and trees and listening ears.

But not all ears are listening quite so intently. Some folks are sleeping, some snacking, some chatting with their neighbor. Mozart means so much to me not only because I chose to listen 100%, but because I was prepared to understand how he works those tensions and releases in a language that takes exposure, effort and education to wholly understand. I wasn’t thinking of this while I was listening, but I think of it now.

It’s all well and good to talk about peace and sing songs of peace, but peace is not a picnic on a sunny day with expensive wine and hand-made baskets imported from Bali. Peace is a fierce determination to make choices that lead us toward compassion, inclusion and not only the courage to rush into a burning building, but the courage to speak out against ignorance, lies and greed. No one mentioned how Bush used the fear generated by September 11th to continue his Daddy’s agenda of getting oil from Iraq. Everyone knew that Bin Laden wasn’t in Iraq, but with the public afraid and the courage to question damped down, we acquiesced to his long-planned war and thousands more innocent people were murdered. But because they were women and children in Iraq, they didn’t get airplay on our TV news and we don’t include them in our mourning. But we should, yes?

So amidst the many reasons to remember September 11th, I hope we can use it as inspiration to build a future of peace, one choice at a time. A lot of little choices well-made add up to a big effect. Like keeping music programs in school so children can eventually understand Mozart’s Requiem and Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Persian santoor music. Like making education more of a priority than military spending. Like putting our most enlightened hearts and minds working to create a real education that gives all children what they so desperately need so they needn’t mindlessly join a street gang, Al Qaeda or the Tea Party.

If you missed Opera in the Park in San Francisco, I recommend shutting the door, dimming the lights, lying down on the floor and listening to the Requiem. Then get up refreshed and determined to build a future of peace, one choice at a time.

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