Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

–Martin Luther King, Jr.

Say Their Silence

Rosa Say has said it better than anybody this week regarding the killing of Osama Bin Laden. In a beautiful, moving post titled, “Hello? These are your values speaking,” she recommends a process of reflection to answer the internal questions we might have about our own private reactions to the event.

photo by

Like many of you, despite the enormous pain Bin Laden caused, images of people cheering his death sent a shiver up the spine. And contrary to how normal (at least for men) this response might be, as suggested by this WSJ article, I still can’t find anything sweet about revenge. For sure, I’m sympathetic to anyone who wandered down to the twin towers site to mourn and commemorate the loss of friends and colleagues — yes, I get that totally — but not the flag waving, chanting, drinking patriots at the gates of the White House singing The Star Spangled Banner. Those images will last, a book-end to images of 9/11 itself — and they don’t seem to me to relieve anything of the grief; to the contrary, they add to it because they are, as University of Nebraska professor Ari Kohen points out in a popular blog post, not about justice at all, but about vengeance.

For what its worth, I wrote a song the day after 9/11. I got it out today and re-read the words. It’s called, “Say Their Silence,” and it’s about the people who died falling from the towers. It’s a little corny now when I read it, you know, but it helped me get through the next few days after the tragedy. And, in truth, silence is indeed what it seems to me we’ve still got, a whole lot of it about the much deeper issues of violence and revenge. Whether or not it’s programmed into us, part of our chemistry, makes not a bit of difference. The point is we all have it in us. You have it and so do I. So something must be added, a consciousness, that is powerful enough to lift us all out of whatever anger and terror and suffering drives it and celebrates it. It’s too late in the life of the world for this kind of stuff, and the seeds are still with us, in those images of flag-waving, in the voices that turn this sad event into an opportunity to for revenge across the political rifts in our country. The sound of revenge, more than cheers of victory or opportunistic speeches about “justice,” is the silence of death that reigns as background to it all.

Osama Bin Laden’s killing brings it all up again for me, the pain, and what, if anything — if anything — we’ve learned, and just when we’re going to start paying attention to revenge itself as the enemy instead of reveling in this nasty game of eye for eye and tooth for tooth. You can bet that the reveling is not much more than an invitation to more of the same, but that’s not the meaning of it, either. The meaning is in the irreparable loss of our humanity.

We think we own this place;
we think we can control
what happens on this island,
what happens in the soul.

We’ve got a lot to learn
Before we can celebrate that dawn;
I mourn you though I don’t really know
what to feel now that you’re gone.

O say, say their silence
and tonight suffer the hours;
for we might need to learn from them
before their dust is ours.

The deal is we can learn. If we can just pay attention for a moment. We can see how the whole wheel turns, and what we must do to begin to stop it. This isn’t some philosophical argument about whether or not Bin Laden should have been killed. It’s about our reaction to it, and just how long we plan to be chained to the wheel.

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I pray for you; I pray for me
I pray in confusion’s night
to learn how to open now
that flower of love and light.

I say O…Silence.

I say O…Silence.

Technorati Tags: . Link to blog posting. Link to Oestreich Associates website. Thanks to Vincenza Mueller for the epigraph.


  • Kellee M. Franklin wrote:

    beautiful reminder…as always, thanks for sharing.

  • Dan Oestreich wrote:

    Thanks, my friend!

  • Dan Oestreich wrote:

    Thx, my friend!

  • Marcy Collyer wrote:

    Thank you for sharing…I was terribly sad to hear people on the news touting it as a glorious day….time for a celebration. In my opinion, that response reflects a serious lack of spirtiual evolution. Unfortunately, I know many people agreed with the broadcast. Amazing….with all of our intellectual achievements, it seems we still do not get it.

  • Dan, I am with you and Rosa on this issue. Evil leaders do not warrant cheers. I felt rather empty for what they did to others on this earth. An aura of sadness washed over me for all the grief they caused. I am sad the world had to endure their merciless, angry acts that killed and maimed so many.

    Your poem, “Say Their Silence,” expresses all of this well. Thanks, Dan.

  • Dan Oestreich wrote:

    Thanks, Marcy. I’m coming to see what an incredibly challenging thing it is to integrate these private reactions. Unfortunately, comments on my blog post do not repost here, so you might want to take a look by following the “Link to blog posting” shown above to see how others have replied, including accessing the link Kartik suggests. As you point out, our spirits have not altogether caught up to where we need to be.

  • Marcy Collyer wrote:

    Thank you for sharing…I was terribly sad to hear people on the news touting it as a glorious day….time for a celebration. In my opinion, that response reflects a serious lack of spirtiual evolution. Unfortunately, I know many people agreed with the broadcast. Amazing….with​ all of our intellectual achievements, it seems we still do not get it.

  • I wanted to share a link to a post by Corey deVos on I think he does a great job of being present and metabolizing the emotions related to this event, in the contexts of the personal and national psyche:

  • Robyn, thank you, too, and may we all find our way forward. I find as time goes by some softening inside of me when I think of the “celebrants.” It isn’t easy but there’s a need for some kind of compassionate response and understanding. I’m not all the way there yet, but I’m working on it.

  • Kartik

    Thanks so much for passing along the link. It’s a very interesting read and I suggest others take a look at it, along with Rosa’s post.

  • Life has a way of bringing us (all too often through our man made tragedies) back to silence. And we also have a way of turning away from this gift at the first opportunity, only to suffer and then return again to this invitation that life offers us to identify with the boundless Peace & Joy that pre-exists in the silence of our core.
    Thanks Dan 🙂

  • Nick, it’s great to hear your voice again! Your reminder is profound — as always.

    You help me see that there are really two kinds of silence in my post and the lyrics from my song. The first has to do with the silence of death and the emptiness I felt watching people celebrate; the second has to do with the interior silence you refer to, which I associate with a deep comfort and loving kindness. The lesson for me is always to wait through the first silence long enough to experience the second.

    That’s an easier thing to do with some events, more difficult with others. The more difficult, however, the greater and more welcoming the “invitation” and the sweeter the return home.

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