Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Power of Choice

A segment on tonight's broadcast of the Spanish-language news program Primer Impacto will feature MVFHR member Phyllis Rodriguez and Aicha al-Wafi, the mother of Zacarias Moussaoui. The program airs at 5:00 PM EDT; check your local listings. In tomorrow's MVFHR blog post we will talk about the friendship that these two women have forged and the work they do together.

Today, on the sixth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, we post excerpts from a talk that New York MVFHR member Anthony Aversano gave earlier this year at a panel presentation organized by Families and Friends of Homicide Victims.

On Sept 11th, 2001, a day we all will never forget, my dear father Louis F. Aversano, Jr., was killed at the World Trade Center. As you can imagine, I found it one of the biggest challenges of my life to face some of the thoughts, feelings, fears, and whole-life fallout that was before me.

Facing and struggling through some of the very normal responses to the trauma from 9/11 and the murder of my father, I feel blessed to have also been on a path of self-awareness and in the practice of self-reflection during that time. You could say, through the grace of God, I miraculously transformed the grips of anxiety, fear, hatred, and anger into a space of empowerment, clarity, and compassion.

During a quiet moment of looking within, I envisioned a metaphor of an artist working with a chunk of clay. I saw the artist as myself and the clay as my life or any life experience. I recognized that a chunk of clay is nothing until the artist sees in it some kind of image or meaning and then molds the clay into what they envision. In that moment, the light bulb turned on when I realized that this metaphor of the process of creating art out of clay was just like the process of how we deal with the experiences of life.

So, the big question that God delivered to me in that moment was, What am I going to create out of the clay I was given on 9/11?

Well, I immediately recognized that I was being given a magnificent gift through this process. I realized it is a gift I always had and we all have in our lives, but a gift we often don’t use.

It was the reawakening of my gift of conscious choice.

I thought to myself, “Life is always throwing at us, in every experience we have, a new ball of clay. How we choose to mold and interpret that clay is then up to us!”

The realization in that moment was profound. The tears and melting of my heart that followed also melted the walls of my pain. The hatred, anger, and resentment that had been eating away at me all came tumbling down.

I was no longer a prisoner of the death of my Father or the tragedy of 9/11. I was free.

In that freedom and space of clarity that opened in the days after that awakening, this is the realization that I came to me:
How to honor the life of my father was not to seek revenge, but to live my life well.
How to respond to hatred was not with more hatred, but with kindness.
How to respond to an act of violence was not with more violence, but with compassion and understanding.

This place of clarity of heart was life changing and allowed me to find the healing that I sought, and allowed to me to feel like I could fully live again.

But, as life does in all of its grandeur, some time after this revelation I was presented with another enormous challenge and test of my faith.

In early 2005, I read a news report one day that said Zacarias Moussaoui was found guilty for crimes related to 9/11 and that the trial was now proceeding to the sentencing phase. That report also stated that family members of 9/11 were going to be presenting what is called victim impact statements.

Something clicked in that moment for me and it was like God whispered in my ear and said, “That is you, Anthony. This is something you have to do. This is where you must speak your voice and share yourself with the world.”

Well, there I was again, back in a space of self-reflection, facing some of the same fears and feelings I experienced right after 9/11.

And, once again by the grace of God, the light bulb turned on: Here is another ball of clay, Anthony. How do you choose to mold this one? It was a choice! The question again was simply, what was I going to choose? What path was I going to walk in this new situation?

Without getting into the details of the trial and the many other reasons why I learned that the death penalty does not serve our world and is a huge injustice to the true victims it is supposed to be giving satisfaction to, I found my way to realizing that what was true for me in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui was true for me in my revelation regarding 9/11: If we respond to violence with violence we still get more violence. If we respond to hatred with hatred, we get more hatred. If we respond to terrorism with war and terror, we get more terror.

On April 20th, 2006, I was one of 15 family members who lost a loved one on 9/11 to testify against the death penalty in the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.

I testified not for the sake of that one man, but to share some of my story and clearly speak that it is possible to rise above tragedy. I spoke loud and clear that if I responded to that act of terror by giving my life to the anger, hatred, and vengeance that terror breeds, my life might as well be another name on that list of casualties.

I testified to the world that day that I had reclaimed the power of my choice in life and, in the face of all the pain we endured as family members, I chose to live my life in peace.

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