On September 11th, 2001, I discovered that life can change on a dime and that I was more vulnerable than I’d known. On 9/11 I was living on Embassy row in Washington, DC, about three houses from the Vice President’s home. As that day began, before the world turned upside down and inside out, the day was perfect. The sky was a clear, deep blue, the temperature was exquisite, and all felt right with the world. Someone alerted me to events transpiring in New York City and in stupefied horror I watched at the second plane slammed into the tower. Only once before in my life had I watched something in stunned incomprehension, and that was the day that Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on live TV.
Once the third plane slammed into the Pentagon, in my own backyard so to speak, life in DC changed in an instant! National Guardsmen were on every downtown corner with drawn rifles. Every truck moving about DC got stopped and inspected. Six times a day a Secret Service helicopter did a low circle over the VP’s home and those in his vicinity, rattling the windows and dishes.
Over the course of the next year I found myself suddenly, inexplicably, crying. Anything could set me off: something beautiful, something terrible, something delicious, something repulsive. I found myself wondering “Who the hell have I become? What is happening to me?” In time, I came to understand that the sudden and life-altering events of 9/11 had made me existentially aware of being vulnerable, and the tears were are part of grieving for the personal world-view which had been taken from me.
In Orthodox Christian monastic life one becomes a disciple to an experienced spiritual mentor, one’s Abba. The purpose of that relationship is to enable the Disciple to grow through input and insights with the Elder, which lessons are supposed to translate to the way in which the Disciple also relates to life. In the Disciple/Abba relationship the Disciple learns to see what he was blind to, to hear where there was previous deafness, and to be open to whatever Life needs to tell the Disciple. In short, through that relationship one learns to be vulnerable. Which, until 9/11 was fine, in theory.
From over here on the Mainland it strikes me that the Disciple/Abba relationship is what Aloha is also about: being in a right relationship with all people and things. It is the opposite of self-centeredness and narcissism, the opposite of our western “self” culture. Aloha corresponds perfectly with Christ’s injunction that his followers “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And one cannot extend Aloha without being to some extent vulnerable.
On September 9th, 2001, I had not yet discovered Hawaiʻi or Aloha. I had left the safety of my monastery and was off on my own. And I was living in the midst of what was looking like a war! It’s funny how I could learn about vulnerability in the monastery, in my relationship with my Abba, and yet not recognize it for a year in DC. But life is like that; sometimes there is more to learn than what we already know!