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Rabbi Justus N. Baird

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Eleven (9+1+1) Spiritual Lessons of 9/11

Posted: 09/10/11 07:31 AM ET

9/11 changed us - whether we were alive at that moment or yet-to-be born. Ten years later, it makes sense to consider what we have learned. This is what 9/11 taught me.

1. Life can end at any moment. Looking at family photos of the 3,000 people who died that day inspires me to live each day to its fullest and to get my priorities straight, now.

2. Bad things happen to good people. The struggle to understand why such terror befell one person and not another is part of the mystery of being human. On 9/11, Job's cry was our cry.

3. Crisis opens hearts and invites us to elevate ourselves. Who can forget the outpouring of compassion and empathy in the days and weeks after 9/11? Our challenge is to act with such generosity of spirit more often.

4. Being vulnerable is part of being alive. We all need to feel safe and secure, but ultimately there is no way to protect against every danger. Embracing vulnerability with courage makes us stronger.

5. Ideas and words hold great power: they can inspire educated people to commit baseless acts of hatred, while at the same time inspire billions to live peaceful lives for generations. Choose and evaluate words and ideas carefully, because eventually someone will turn them into action.

6. How we remember and tell stories matters. The meanings of 9/11 are still under debate. By telling others what 9/11 means to us, we craft what our children and grandchildren will learn from this event and shape the choices they will make.

7. Holding entire peoples accountable for the crimes of a few is wrong and vengeful. Justice demands that we track down and punish those who commit crimes, not all those who look like, pray like, or sound like the perpetrators. Those who lash out or discriminate against entire groups are driven by fear and ignorance.

8. Healing deserves compassion, not judgment. We all mourn, and heal, in own ways. Some move on and others do not. Compassion, not judgment, is the best gift to offer those who hurt.

9. Our lives are surprisingly inter-connected in this chaotic, flat world. Citizens from more than 90 countries died on 9/11. We can't say "we" so easily anymore, since we are all minorities now. Our task is to thrive with surprising difference close to home.

10. Plane-bombs are no match against resilient people governed well. Future terrorists take note: the only effective weapon against a regime you don't like is the hope for a better way. Wise change-agents throughout history, like the leaders of the Arab Spring, know that violence never brings about lasting, stable change.

11. The human spirit is breathtakingly resilient. Many have suffered greatly and choose to live another day. Life is not the same after 9/11, but it will continue, and improve.

What spiritual lessons have you learned from September 11?