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Peace on Earth Edition
Copyright © 2007 Patrick Swift
All right reserved.
The fact that you have picked up this book already says something about you-that you are a spiritual person. As the saying goes: We are not human beings having spiritual experiences, but spiritual beings having human experiences. And this spiritual being has an opportunity to say something to you about the journey we are traveling together. But it's not so much what I have to say, as what I have to share with you.
The book that you are holding contains something precious. It contains timeless wisdom written down by men and women from every age and era deeply inspired by their faiths. These scriptural passages come from many different religious traditions from around the world, and reveal a common thread of hope, love, and peace that has woven us together for thousands of years. I have been collecting these writings since September 11th 2001, and have come to cherish them as guideposts on my spiritual journey.
Like many of us, I will never forget that day. I was in New York City at the time. The weather was perfect. The sky expansive and blue. The air warm with a hint of fall in the breeze. People were every where, on the streets, in the parks, on the subways, busily going about their business as New Yorkersdo. I took the subway from my home in Brooklyn to the hospital where I work in Manhattan and got off at Union Square, my favorite park in New York City. My usual routine involved stepping out of the subway, up the stairs, and into the Square where I would pass four statues dedicated to some of the greatest public servants in human history: Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Mother Mary, and Mahatma Gandhi, and make my way to the East Side. Standing at the corner waiting for the light to change at Seventeenth Street and Third Avenue, I saw two white and blue NYPD tactical-response units blur past me headed downtown with their sirens blaring. Having lived in New York for three years, I had grown accustomed to the sound of emergency vehicles and didn't think much of it at the time. I crossed the street and arrived at my building in just enough time to catch the elevator up to the ninth floor. Getting off, one of the nurses asked me if I had heard what had happened at the World Trade Center.
"A plane crashed into it," she said. "It's all over the news!"
Rushing to the windows on the south side of the hospital, I saw one of the twin towers off in the distance with a gaping hole torn into the heart of it. I felt sure by the size of it that some people must have just died or been critically injured. Then the pit of my stomach sunk as I realized that my wife worked in one of those towers. Confused and frightened, I raced to my office to call her on her mobile phone.
"Where are you?" I cried. "The World Trade Center has been hit by a plane honey-you're in danger-you've got to get out of there!"
"I'm at home Patrick! Calm down ... What's wrong?"
"Turn on the television! The World Trade Center has been hit by a plane."
After a few moments, I could hear the news over the telephone, blaring in the background at home. "Oh my God," she whispered. "What's happening?"
"It's awful Heather. People must have died in the crash. I can't believe it."
"My mom works in that building! I've got to call her!" she said. Heather's mother had worked in the north tower since 1986 and had survived the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.
Just then, a second plane crashed into the south tower. It was immediately broadcast on the news Heather was watching.
"That's my building honey! I've gotta let you go!" she said.
"Call me when you know about your mom!" I told her.
As I hung up the phone, I felt relieved and nauseated at the same time-comforted to know that my wife was okay-and sickened to feel in my gut that something was very wrong. "What the hell is going on?" I thought. After pulling myself together and tending to my own patients, I went to visit the other patients whose windows faced downtown, toward the World Trade Center. By then, the first tower had already fallen and many of these patients were in shock. Some were solemn and distant, others chatty or too preoccupied with other things to pay attention to what was going on in the world.
Making my way around the floors, I came across an Asian gentleman in his 40s. I would never forget seeing the second tower fall through his eyes. When I went into his room, he was seated at the edge of the bed looking out the window. I sat down next to him and asked him how he was feeling. He started to tell me when his face became torn with agony, and his eyes welled with tears. "No ... no ... no ... not again," he cried. I turned and saw with my own eyes that the north tower was collapsing in on itself with whole floors crashing down one on top of another. Watching it happen, I felt like someone was kicking me in the stomach as each floor fell. We sat in silence-stunned by the image of pluming dust billowing where the towers had once stood.
Downstairs in the hospital lobby, a triage was set up to receive victims from the attack. Gurneys and IV poles lined the entrance; doctors and nurses stood their post; but few patients came. We received some of the victims who had sustained orthopedic and neurological injuries, but most were sent to hospitals closer to downtown. One patient was an ambulance driver whose truck had been overturned during the fall of the first tower. Another was a firefighter who had been injured while trying to save people in one of the buildings. Another was a businessman trampled from the rush of people trying to escape flying debris from a falling tower. There were others as well, all having been injured somehow and needing medical attention.
The next day, an information table was set up in our hospital lobby to meet the flood of people searching for missing persons. The city was full of them-relatives hoping to find that their family member had been admitted to a hospital as a Jane or John Doe. Because we had a brain injury unit, many people called our hospital in hopes of discovering that their loved one had been sent to us in a coma with no identifying information. These searchers left enough missing person notices to fill a thick three-ring binder that we kept in the lobby. Looking through the photographs, I felt guilty knowing that so many people had lost their loved ones and that my wife and mother-in-law had worked in the Towers and survived. So many families had been devastated. I wondered how such a tragedy could befall so many decent people with families and children to take care of.
Like many people, I needed to understand why the terrorists of September 11th would claim to do such a horrific act in the name of God. How could someone use religion to cause so much harm to others? I knew that the events in New York, Washington DC, and Pennsylvania were considered a tragedy to most of the world. But to the organizers of September 11th and some people in other parts of the world, it was something to be celebrated.
That November, I was asked to give a cultural diversity presentation at a brain injury rehabilitation conference at Mount Sinai Medical Center here in Manhattan. Ironically, I had been asked to talk on the importance of being tolerant and respectful of patients from all cultures, and how to best serve their needs. Sadly, an emotional backlash had initially grown around the globe to blame Islam and Middle Eastern culture for September 11th. There were numerous accounts of innocent Arab Americans and people of Middle Eastern descent being attacked or even murdered here in the States. Tragically, one family suffered when an innocent Sikh man was shot and killed on September 15th in Arizona simply because of his skin color and the clothes that he wore. In Texas, a Pakistani man wearing a turban was shot and killed while working at a convenience store. A friend of mine knew of the victim's family and shared with me the grief that they experienced because of the attacker's blind hate.
In preparing for my talk, I came across the following words from former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan who spoke on "The Challenge of Diversity" at a public address in New York City in 1998. He said, "To be kind, to be merciful. No single religion can claim a monopoly on such teachings. The problem, as I see it, is not with the faith; it is with the faithful.... From war to discrimination, and other violations of human rights, what we see all too frequently is a lack of tolerance and understanding between religious traditions. There is a tendency to think of us and them. People fear what is different and demonize the other." I knew that millions of Christians and Muslims had died in the Middle East during the crusades of the Middle Ages. Millions of Catholics and Protestants had died in Europe over which faith was the "true" religion of God. And millions of Jews were murdered in Nazi concentration camps this past century alone. The list went on and on. Mr. Annan's words resonated a chord deep within me. I agreed with him that the problem was not with the faith, not with Christianity, Judaism, Islam or any other faith, but with the faithful and how we apply our beliefs.
During the next few months after September 11th, there was a tenderness throughout New York City that was palpable. I felt proud to be a New Yorker. I felt proud, resilient, and vulnerable. I noticed that people were more willing to patiently wait their turn in line, speak more gently to one another, and say "God bless you" if a stranger sneezed on the subway. Life seemed to have become more precious. I decided to live each day with the attitude that it could be my last and that I was going to make the most of it. I decided to work for peace.
* * *
How to Use This Book
I believe that you are the kind of person who would celebrate a world in which there were peace and freedom from fear, war, and the tyranny of discrimination. I believe you to be a person who can see the wisdom in being kind and merciful, and who would rejoice if people of different religious traditions learned to live with one another in peace. And I sincerely believe that world peace is still within our reach. What you hold in your hand is a simple and heartfelt book dedicated to realizing that goal for yourself, your children, and your children's children.
There are some six billion people on the planet practicing thirteen different major religions in the world, including Baha'i, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Indigenous Faiths (such as Native American and African religions), Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. And beneath our differences of skin color, language, and religious custom, there are fundamental similarities that we all share. The 100 quotes in this book have been selected to honor these sacred traditions and to celebrate the truth that we are far more alike in the spiritual journey than we are different.
Religions are like languages-and there is no one superior language. English, Arabic, French, Italian, and Spanish are all beautiful languages that people use to connect to one another. I happen to speak English and Spanish, but neither is better than the other. And being fluent in both allows me to connect with many more patients in my hospital, and many more people in my world, than if I spoke English alone. To demand that everyone in the world speak English would be rude and arrogant, not to mention impossible. I don't think celebrating the fundamental similarities among religions, however, should mean combining them all into a single religion at the cost of our individuality. We need to learn to honor and respect our religious and cultural differences, not to wipe them out!
There are four ways you can use this book. First, you can use it as a weekly, or even daily source of inspiration for your spiritual journey. Choose a regular time to sit quietly, whether it is in the morning, afternoon, or even at night before going to bed. Pick a comfortable space in your home to sit and read a few pages or a section that appeals to you. Afterward, sit quietly and reflect on the words that you find there. You may find it beneficial to read the passages slowly and ponder them. Afterward, you can journal any thoughts or feelings that come up for you. Later on, you may find that certain passages or words come back to you as you go about your daily routine. That's good! Take a moment to contemplate how the words apply to your life, and then go on with your day. Write about it in your journal later if you want to.
The second way you can use this book is to pick it up and read from any page or section that appeals to you. Don't worry about reading the book in any particular order. There is no right order better than any other. The important thing is to embrace your faith and to continue on your chosen path. I do this myself when I am feeling down and need some inspiration. In fact, when I was working on the manuscript for this book, I started to feel burnt out and felt like giving up. I needed some serious encouragement late one evening, so I randomly opened up a book with over 800 pages of spiritual wisdom and plunked my finger down on the first passage that I saw. It was from the Hindu scriptures and it said, "Open yourself, create free space; release the bound one from his bonds! Like a newborn child, freed from the womb, be free to move on every path!"
I stopped right there. Considering I had already settled on the title of this book as One Mountain, Many Paths, I was deeply touched by the words and bolstered in my confidence that the effort I was making was worthwhile. To me, the passage spoke of spiritual freedom, tolerance, and liberation. I especially liked the reference to being a child in the womb developing toward the freedom to embrace every path. I felt emboldened in the belief that we, as members of one human family, are growing to one day be able to embrace one another in love and peace as brothers and sisters of different spiritual traditions.
The scientist in me knew that there was a statistical likelihood that I could have come across that particular passage at anytime-that the experience could have been completely random and meaningless. I could have been cynical about the coincidence and thought nothing of it at all. But I don't live my life that way. Life has too much meaning. Instead, I printed the words out and hung them in my home office to look at whenever I need some inspiration.
The third way you can read this book is by using it as part of a spiritual study group. You could get a small group of friends together who care about spiritual tolerance and global peace, and pick a place to meet like a coffee shop or someone's home and talk about your experiences with the book. Ideally, your group would meet on a weekly basis for support and sharing. I invite you to visit my website at www. drswift.org for some discussion questions to get things started, or even to submit your own list of questions for others to see. Lastly, you can read it like you would read any other book-straight through. I don't recommend doing it all in one sitting though. That would give you the equivalent of spiritual indigestion! Spend some time reading each passage slowly and contemplating the wisdom that you find there-then move on when you feel the time is right.
This book is full of inspiring quotes from religious traditions from all around the world. They speak of the fundamental truths that all religions share. If you enjoy the book, you will be the better for it. I know these scriptures will speak to you on a level that is far beyond anything that I could possibly have written, and it is my prayer that you might find inspiration and nourishment from them. As I have studied these passages, I have found a new hope for our future-a hope that we may all one day see the beauty and wisdom of our different faiths and learn to embrace them. After all, there is one mountain, but there are many paths.
With Great Love & Respect, Patrick
Excerpted from One Mountain, Many Paths by Patrick Swift Copyright © 2007 by Patrick Swift. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted April 3, 2008
I was amazed at all the commonality of wisdom throughout cultures and religions. Facing the world with a sense of kindredship instead of differences seems to be the better way to enjoy, promote and live life. Swift's book poignantly supports this, and offers an alternative to the socialized practices of viewing everyone as different. Rather it celebrates the timeless wisdom supported in all faiths and cultures. Peace through common ground and shared experience. Swift is the Dr Phil of spiritual well-being.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.