Beyond the trauma of September 11th and all the upheavals it set in motion, Americans have experienced vulnerability, collectively, in a new way. We are learning the limits of our ability to shield ourselves from the world's terrors. We have joined our national fate in a new way to the lives of other nations, and come closer to other peoples' suffering. I have wondered: how is all of this affecting our common spirit?
As he has pondered this same question in recent years, the Quaker author Parker Palmer has referred to one of my favorite passages from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:
"…I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
Mariane Pearl is a refreshing and bracing model for living the questions in the world we now inhabit. She is a survivor who has salvaged wisdom from the front lines of the war on terror. She is a real woman, flesh and blood, passionate and tempestuous. She suffered a hideous loss in the kidnapping and murder of her husband. She might reasonably have chosen to despair. Instead she chose to fight. She was not interested in forgiving the people who did this, but she did work to understand the world which made it possible.
She says that years of Buddhist practice gave her the clarity to see what the terrorists' goals were and how to resist them, a spiritual practice of defiance that sustains her even today. And here is her definition of "winning" over terrorism:
If I was somebody who could not trust people anymore because of what happened to Danny, then they would have claimed some part of my soul. … If I was overwhelmed by bitterness, or if I hated Muslims… I knew that if I was going to be bitter, I was going to be half dead, and that's exactly what they wanted, right? I can't do that. It's impossible. But it's a defiance, it's not a forgiveness.
Radio is about the spoken word; but one of its magical qualities is a capacity to plant pictures in our mind's eye — pictures painted by others that we nevertheless summon from our own depths. Of all the stories Mariane Pearl leaves me with this week, I am most pleased to possess her image of the Pakistani Muslim policemen who understood her personal tragedy as their own and who fight even today for their country and their religion.
She describes a "vision of the world" incarnate in the house in Karachi in which she awaited news of her husband's fate — a plural humanity, a mix of personal histories and faiths, that gathered light against the terrorist alternative of violence. As a Buddhist, Mariane Pearl offers a model of spiritual defiance that is both pragmatic and transcendent. As a woman, she offers concrete images of a world worth fighting for.