Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why We Choose Love: A PCV's reflection on September 11 from Ukraine

Dear All,
I wanted to post an essay written by my friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Ukraine, Graham Salinger, about his reflection in his many travels and why he chooses to love in the wake of September 11th.
I also want to dedicate this post to the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, an RPCV who served in Morocco who gave his life in the service of love of country a year ago.
I also want to dedicate this post to the late Ambassador Chris Stevens, an RPCV who served in Morocco who gave his life in the service of love of country a year ago.

The opinions expressed in this email do not reflect that of the Peace Corps of the United States Government.

            One of the most important things that I have learned in my life is the difference between fighting with something and fighting for something. While there may be a thin line between the two, it is clear that fighting for something is a labor of love. For us The Peace Corps is an act of love, for we must love to commit ourselves to such service. Today, more so than others, provokes us to think about love of country, not just love of our country, but the concept in its entirety.  For me love of country is something that I have been thinking about more thoughtfully as I have travelled to other countries.

            My first eye opening traveling experience came when I travelled to Colombia to research trade policy. There I met workers fighting for their rights, it was at those meetings that I first saw armed gunmen and realized that these weapons of war were all too common in the life of everyday Colombians. Later on I met with families who had had family members murdered by paramilitary groups. As they told their stories I saw that they sought more than justice and answers.  Behind their grief was a deep love of country; a love that made them continue to advocate for a more peaceful country despite threats of violence to their family.

            In a similar trip that I went on in Israel and the Occupied Territories I went to refugee camps, helped rebuild a Palestinian families’ home after it had been torn down for the third time, and helped Palestinian students with a USAID sponsored environmental project. What I did in Palestine is less important than why I did it, who I met and what I learned. I took this journey for deeply personal reasons.  My dad started practicing Judaism when I was a teenager  because my Jewish grandmother got Alzheimer’s and he needed something to connect himself with her. He was trying to reclaim what he was slowly losing. My father knows deeply the meaning of family and how to love. As someone who came to Judaism in my teen years I was attracted to its themes of love, justice and working to make the world a better place, but I was also angry about the actions that Israel had been doing in its name. I went to Israel/ Palestine because I wanted to love my religion. I wanted to fight for it, not with it. For me, that meant supporting Palestinians. When I went there I saw people who, under horrible conditions, just wanted the most basic things that we take for granted; water, schooling, housing and the right to be treated like humans. I saw little hate, blame or bitterness.

            Countries that face incredible challenges also face incredible choices, choices about how to respond and how those responses will change the country, both in terms of history and in terms of identity.  They must choose between using love as the starting point or some less clearly defined starting point. Of course, all of us know this. Twelve years ago today violence came to us.  It shook our families, our hearts and our country. Our generation is burdened with living in a post September 11th world and all its implications. One central question that we face is how we come to understand patriotism. There is blind love and there is the kind of love that I have discussed. By joining the Peace Corps, by deciding to serve and by working on issues that impact sustainable nation building, we have made our choice clear. WE CHOSE TO LOVE BECAUSE IT IS HARD, CONFUSING AND SOMETIMES SCARY. It is that kind of love of country, of family and perhaps most importantly of strangers, that pays off the most. It is that kind of love that will not only make America great again, but will make the world a better place. It is that kind of love that we strive for, because when we look in the eyes of the people we serve we see people who love and deserve to live in a world that loves them back.  

            Today is a somber day, we were all changed in profound ways twelve years ago.  I know that it may not be fair, but we also are now tasked with changing the world in profound ways. Such change requires love and such love requires faith in each other and ourselves. By serving we exercise that love and faith everyday and are sustained by the love we receive from those we are serving. Today reminds us not just of tragedy, but of the work we are doing and must continue to do, the chapters we are writing in our own love stories. Thank you and may you continue to be a source of strength.

With love,

Graham Salinger.  

A year later, Ambassador Stevens' high school decided to name their library after him.

Other patriots who died a year ago at Libya
Sean Smith Diplomat.jpgSean Smith: Information management Officer, also served in the military prior

Glen Doherty

Glen Anthony Doherty (c. 1970–September 11, 2012) of Encinitas,[96] was a native of Winchester, Massachusetts,[97] and a 1988 graduate of Winchester High School.[98] Doherty was the second of three children born to Bernard and Barbara Doherty. He trained as a pilot at Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University before moving to Snowbird, Utah for several winters and then joining the United States Navy. Doherty served as a Navy SEAL, responded to the bombing of the USS Cole, had tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and left the Navy in 2005 as a petty officer, first class.[99] After leaving the Navy, he worked for a private security company in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Kenya and Libya.[97] In the month prior to the attack, Doherty as a contractor with the State Department told ABC News in an interview that he personally went into the field in Libya to track down MANPADS, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, and destroy them.[100]
Doherty was a member of the advisory board of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an organization that opposes proselytizing by religious groups in the United States military.[101]Doherty was co-author of the book The 21st Century Sniper.[101][102]
Doherty's funeral was held at Saint Eulalia's parish in his native Winchester on September 19, 2012.[103] His celebration of life was held in Encinitas, California the weekend of October 12–14, 2012.[104][105]

Tyrone S. Woods

Tyrone Snowden Woods (January 15, 1971 – September 12, 2012), of Imperial Beach,[96] was born in Portland, Oregon.[106] Woods graduated from Oregon City High School in 1989,[106] south of Portland, Oregon, and served 20 years of honorable service in the U.S. Navy before joining State Department Diplomatic Security[107] as a U.S. embassy security personnel,[88] working under a service contract.[108] Since 2010, Woods had protected American diplomats in posts from Central America to the Middle East.[109]
As a Navy SEAL in 2005-06, Woods was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with combat "V" Device for valor in Iraq.[107][110] He led 12 direct action raids and 10 reconnaissance missions leading to the capture of 34 enemy insurgents in the volatile Al Anbar province.[107] He served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East and Central America.[111] He retired as a senior chief petty officer in 2010.[112][113]
Woods also served with distinction at the Naval Medical Center San Diego as a registered nurse and certified paramedic.[110] Having settled in Imperial Beach, California, for a year of his retirement he owned The Salty Frog bar there; he is survived by his second wife, Dr. Dorothy Narvaez-Woods, their one child,[114] and two sons from a previous marriage.[113] Woods was buried atFort Rosecrans National Cemetery.[115]

September 11th is for Americans, as Graham has said, a time of reflection and understanding what it means to love our country. For those who died, us honoring their role in building up this world; even amidst the destruction those living with hate bore upon our souls. And for those of us still living; continuing to choose to love. So let's not fight something, someone, let's not fight evil, but fight for good.
Peace and blessings of God be upon you,
Tanim Awwal