Saturday, September 10, 2011

Ten Years On . . . Holding Community

I know the internet is full of commentary about September 11, and the 10-year anniversary. To be honest, I did not want to add to it. But then my heart told me I must. On my blog about my life in New Zealand, I wrote about the odd feeling of the world coming together for the Rugby World Cup, yet feeling like an outsider as an American in New Zealand on the anniversary of that day. Ironically, the United States Eagles Rugby team plays its first match on 9/11, though I guess it will only be 9/10 back in the United States. Still, something does not feel right about that. Here is an interesting link to two of the players discussing playing on the anniversary.

Ten years ago, I was a sophomore in college. I had never done yoga. I swore I would never be a lawyer. I embodied everything about stress and had not experienced the world outside US borders for more than three weeks. Since that day, yoga and the law have come to dominate my life, and I have lived abroad for nearly two years. I spent 6 months in Aix-en-Provence, France (during which time the United States invaded Iraq) and 7 months in Dreux, France (during which time the United States reelected President Bush), and now eight months and counting in New Zealand (during which time the United States killed Osama Bin Laden).  

So what, you ask? What does all of this have to do with yoga? What does it have to do with law? What does it have to do with living a more balanced life in the modern world? Everything!

The attacks on September 11, 2001 have defined the vast majority of my adult life. The death of Osama Bin Laden showed me just how tense and scared that time has been. Yoga has taught me much over the past 9+ years, but one of the most profound lessons has been that we must recognize the interconnectedness of humanity. On this blog, I have discussed this as community. Ironically, on this 9/11 anniversary I feel more alone than I have ever felt (this is the first time I have been away from the United States on 9/11).

A part of me yearns to be among many other Americans, rather than 2 or 3, who remember that day. A part of me yearns to tell my friends here, whether Kiwi, Malaysian, English, or Argentinean, how confused and vulnerable I felt, we all felt. A part of me yearns to explain how that fear became misguided arrogance, but that I also felt relief, sadness, and again confusion, when Osama Bin Laden was killed.

But I hear the responses before I open my mouth. I hear people remind me about Guantanamo. I hear people remind me about the drone attacks in Pakistan. I hear people remind me about the tens of thousands of civilians (and military) that have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. I do not know how to express that I see both visions to people in each camp. 

I do not know if people are willing to accept that there are layers and layers to these stories and that sharing them does not mean that any other layer is less important. Few people seem willing to hold the many layers. Few people are willing to struggle and see that no single vision is “right.”

I do not remember if I cried on September 11, 2001. I would like to think I did, but shock and confusion may have prevented it. But yoga has also taught me to open, and trust, my heart. It has taught me to truly feel what others feel, from the jubilation of the Rugby World Cup opening to the pain and horror that people describe in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. I have learned to see fear spiral into its own unimaginable consequences of war and destruction. But that does not mean the fear is not palpable and real. The vision of the planes flying into the Twin Towers now brings tears nearly every time. But so does the vision of Iraqis. So does the thought of the soldiers who have died. All of these events are tragic in their own right.

This theme of being “right” has made its way onto this blog before, as a play on words about being careful before crossing the street in New Zealand where they drive on the “wrong” side of the road. But this time the stakes are higher. This time it means understanding that September 11, 2001 was an awful day. It means understanding that other countries experience their own horrors and war on a daily basis. It means understanding that the United States has made many mistakes over the past 10 years.

Recognizing all of these does not undermine any of them. Disaster breeds community. We saw it on 9/11/2001. We saw it after the Christchurch and Japanese earthquakes. We see it anytime some event shocks us out of our sleep and reminds us that we are connected and together. I hope that this anniversary can remind us of the next step in that process. There is no single story to explain who we are and no single story to explain any event.

Some days it is nearly impossible to hold all these stories, to hold onto so many different visions of the world. But that is when yoga provides its most important, and simplest lesson; come back to the breath. Come back to the breath and let the thoughts and craziness swirl around the head for a moment. Then let it settle. At the end of the day, we do not need to make sense of it all. We simply need to remember that we are all in this together, ready to share our stories.

I hope this time of reflection provides you with a feeling of community and a little bit of peace. I hope we can hear each others’ stories and hold them all with a sense of togetherness and comfort. I hope we can remember that when we think we cannot hear another layer that we remember to come back to the breath and remember that we can, and will, grow together.


© 2011 Rebecca Stahl, all rights reserved


  1. Rebecca, I followed you here atfer seeing your comment on Anna Clark's blog Isak. I keep a blog myself and have done yoga - although find that I am hardly 'yogic.' But I just wanted to tell you that you are not alone in your quest. My own lawyer -through messy divorces and their messy aftermath, including lots of bad outcomes for the children involved (my sons) - is a practicing Buddhiist, deeply involved with the Zen Center here in Rochester. I understand that the traditions are not identical, but they overlap a bunch. And while my lawyer has not been "killer" in ways that at times have played to my disadvantage in court, I respect him immensely and figure it would be nice for you to hear about others seeking to combine seeming incommensurates. Best, Jim Johnson

  2. PS: I also note that you assert "disaster builds community" and so it does. I recommend Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell (2009) if you've not read it. She offers a sustained argument for that claim, including reflections on the aftermath to 9/11 ...

  3. Hi Jim,

    Thank you so much for your comments. Since starting this blog, I have connected to so many lawyers on mindful / yoga paths, and it has been amazing, including a mindful lawyer conference in October 2010, at which there were many lawyers from Rochester. The family law field is definitely a place where such mindful lawyering is necessary (I am very involved in family/juvenile law). I will definitely check out Solnit's book, thanks. And I am glad you found me through Anna. She is one of my dearest friends and greatest inspirations. I'm off to check out your blog as well. Thanks so much.