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"How do you use Survivor Personality skills to be vigilant without worrying, and be alert to potential danger without fear?"

The Hero Within

by Steven Barnes

In the wake of the World Trade Center disaster, it became commonplace for newscasters, pundits, and Americans at large to ask: has America changed forever? Have we lost our sense of security? These are valid questions, and each of us must look into our own hearts to find the answer. America is a collection of some three hundred million separate souls, each of whom must find his or her own way to the truth.

As for myself, I don't think I've changed much. But although I've traveled, flown, been conspicuously American on foreign soil, and scheduled my precious daughter for a trip to the Mediterranean next summer, it wouldn't be true to say that I am not concerned, or that I think that the terrorists are on the run, or that in some way we are now invulnerable to attack. Far from it. In fact, I assume that there will be further atrocities. I just refuse to let such a fear run my life.

Life has always, through all ages, been precarious. It is quite possible that we have created, in America, an oasis where it was possible to forget this. But that illusion of safety is just that: an illusion, and clinging to any illusion ultimately leaves you vulnerable.

I prefer to see myself as part of the natural world, part of the eternal cycle of life, in all of its terrible beauty. Threat and violence do not stop the human heart from flowering: Christianity was born in the shadow of Roman occupation. The British swept glass and bomb fragments from their porches and went about their business during WWII. America itself was birthed with an act of intellectual courage, and then baptized in war.

What we are, at the core of us, is not a nation of fat, lazy, easily frightened merchants. We are a nation of survivors, descended from thousands of generations of survivors, people who could handle the worst that nature, dictators, disease, famine, or disaster could throw. Every one of us, at the core, is as resilient as a panther. If it is more comfortable to luxuriate in the illusion of comfort and safety, no one can blame us. It's fun.

But we are both angels and animals, and everything in-between. We are strong enough to face the reality that there are no promises in life, no guarantees that tomorrow will come.

We may be the only animals on the planet with a conscious awareness of the inevitability of our own deaths, but that does not cow us. Rather, that awareness has birthed great art and music, great religions, wide-ranging philosophies, as well as entire branches of scientific knowledge.

We may shut this awareness away, but when exposed to it we do not wilt, we often grow stronger. This is the great secret of the martial arts, the fact that the warrior makes his peace with mortality. And this could not be, had we not all, hidden within us, the knowledge that life is sweet at least partially because it is finite.

So I think about everything that has happened since September, and ask myself if my responses are the responses of an adult. I look at the question of flying in airplanes, and realize that the terrorists took advantage of the fact that there had never been a suicide bombing in the U.S. We've had them now. We won't be taken by that surprise again.

I look at the question of anthrax, and realize that some 20,000 people died last year of the flu. Disease is nothing new. We will find a way to cope with this challenge.

People ask if our society is dissolving. Think of the violence perpetrated against innocent Muslims! Well, at this writing I have heard of perhaps three loathsome acts of lethal violence directed against Middle-Easterners. That means that only about one hundred millionth of our population has gone nuts. That is an astonishing statistic. How could we possibly have grown so much, so quickly? It was just sixty years ago that Japanese-Americans were rounded up wholesale and placed in concentration camps. What changed, that there has been so little violence against Arabs?

We changed. Down below the surface we aren't black and white and yellow, we aren't Christian and Muslim and Jew, we're not fat merchants and deadly warriors and loving parents.

What we are is the energy that birthed the illusion of individuality, that manifests in so many separate beings and roles and stations of life. In times like these we are asked, called, commanded to go deeper within ourselves, to pierce the veils of illusion, and find the strength that flows in the blood of our greatest heroes. It flows in our veins too.

Be alert, be cautious, but more than anything else, be kind and loving. It is love that created us all, and it is love that helps us see beyond the illusions. When the violence is over, what remain behind are scarred hearts and minds, and those must be soothed with the only balm that lasts, love. There are challenging days ahead of us. But then, there were challenging days behind us as well.

And if we can but remember that, remember that we are descended from thousands of generations of heroes, the days ahead will be the brightest ever.

Steven Barnes

Steve Barnes is author of King's Blood and many other books. He teaches writers' workshops, martial arts, and tai chi. His website is: www.lifewrite.com.

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