What Do We Choose?
by Anthony Aversano
Family and Friends of Homicide Victims (FFHV), presented a panel talk on the death penalty at St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Delmar, NY on Tuesday, May 22, 2007 Marie Verzulli, coordinator of FFHV, said, “The murderer leaves many victims, not just the person who is killed, but that person’s friends and family, as well as the friends and family of the murderer.” Speakers at the presentation included Ms. Verzulli, whose sister was murdered by a serial killer; Anthony Aversano, whose father was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11; Walter Ayres, whose cousin’s granddaughter was abducted and murdered by a college classmate; John Cutro, the friend of a murder victim and an investigator in death penalty cases; and David Kaczynski, the brother of the Unabomber and head of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty. The event was co-sponsored by the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the St. Thomas chapter of Pax Christi. Good evening. My name is Anthony Aversano, I am a long time resident of Troy and I am very thankful to be able to be here tonight and speak with all of you. On Sept 11th, 2001, a day we all will never forget, my father Louis F. Aversano, Jr., was killed at the World Trade Center. As you can imagine, I found it one of the biggest challenges of my life to face some of the thoughts, feelings, fears, and whole life fallout that was before me. Facing and struggling through some of the very normal responses of the trauma from 9/11 and the murder of my father, I feel blessed to have also been on a path self awareness and in the practice of self reflection during that time. I used that place of self reflection and prayer for deeper guidance through that situation. You could say, through the grace of God, I miraculously transformed the grips of anxiety, fear, hatred and anger – into a space of empowerment, clarity and compassion. During a quiet moment of looking within, I envisioned a metaphor of an artist working with a chunk of clay. I saw the artist as myself and the clay as my life or any life experience. I recognized that a chunk of clay is nothing until the artist sees in it some kind of image or meaning and then molds the clay into what they envision. In that moment, the light bulb went off when I realized that this metaphor of the process of creating art out of clay, was just like the process of how we deal with the experiences of life! So, the big question that God delivered to me in that moment was, “What am I going to create out of the clay I was given on 9/11?” Well, I immediately recognized that I was being given a magnificent gift. I realized it is a gift I always had and we all have in our lives, but a gift we often don’t use. It was the reawakening of my gift of “conscious choice”. I thought to myself, life is always throwing at us, in every experience we have, a new ball of clay. How we choose to mold and interpret that clay is then up to us! The realization in that moment was profound. The tears and melting of my heart also melted the walls of my pain. The hatred, anger, and resentment that had been eating away at me all came tumbling down. I was no longer a prisoner of the death of my Father or the tragedy of 9/11. I was free. In that freedom and space of clarity, this is what I saw….. How to honor the life of my father was not to seek revenge, but to live my life well! How to respond to hatred was not with more hatred, but with kindness. How to respond to an act of violence was not with more violence but with compassion and understanding. This place of clarity of heart served me well, allowed me to find the healing that I sought, and allowed to me to feel like I could fully live again. But, as life does in all of its grandeur, sometime after this revelation, I was presented with another enormous challenge and test of my faith. In early 2005, after reading a news report one day that said Zacarius Moussaoui was found guilty for crimes related to 9/11 and that the trial was now proceeding to the Death Penalty portion of the case, that report also stated that family members of 9/11 were going to be presenting what is called victim impact statements. Something clicked in that moment for me and it was like God herself whispered in my ear and said, “That is you Anthony. This is something you have to do. This is where you must speak your voice and share yourself with the world.” Well, there I was again. Back in the space of self reflection. Facing some of the same fears and feelings after 9/11. And once again, by the grace of God, the light bulb went off……. Here is another ball of clay Anthony, how do you choose to mold this one? It was a choice! The question again was simply, What was I going to choose? Without getting into the details of the trial and the many other reasons why I learned the death penalty does not serve our world, and is a huge injustice to the true victims it is supposed to be giving satisfaction to, I found my way to realizing that what was true for me in the trial of Zacarius Moussaoui was true for me in my revelation regarding 9/11. If we respond to violence with violence we still get more violence. If we respond to hatred with hatred, we get more hatred. If we respond to terrorism with war and terror, we get more terror. On April 20th, 2006, I was one of 15 family members who lost a loved one on 9/11 to testify against the Death Penalty in the trial of Zacarius Moussaoui. I testified in that trial, not for the sake of that one man, but to clearly speak that it is possible to rise above tragedy. I testified to the world that day that I had reclaimed the power of my choice in life! That, in the face of all the pain we endured as family members, I chose to live my life in peace. I again recognized that if I responded to that act of terror by giving my life to the anger, hatred, and vengeance that terror breeds, my life would them become a name on that list of casualties as well. I chose to stand for the vibrancy of my life! So, this is what I hope to leave you with today! Remember your gift of choice! Every choice we make is forwarding something in our life. So, I ask you to reflect…….. What are you forwarding in your life by the choices you make? Choice it is not just an action – but also asks WHO DO I BE? How do I act? What way am I going to feel towards myself and others even if it seems they are trying to hurt me? I know it may be hard to understand that you have a choice around how you feel sometimes, but I ask you to consider this. Many times we choose by not choosing! By not doing anything about how we feel is still making a choice! Not acting is still a choice! I am choosing not to act! So, if you are angry, resentful, and filled with hate, and let that consume your life, that is a choice! Not doing the work to understand your own self or taking the time to go within to see why you feel as you do, that is a choice! You choose to not look. My dear brothers and sisters, I truly believe we have the power to interrupt these destructive cycles on our planet that threaten the very existence of human life. We have the power to use the gift of our conscience and conscious choice to make choices that reflect our hearts and our spirits and not our fears and judgments. It is sometimes hard to make those choices when we are in the midst of an emotional time in our lives. That is why I believe this is our practice. This IS the practice of our lives. How do we choose to be in the face of life? Do we honor the holy spirit in us? Or do allow the darkness or our minds to guide our way? I say the place to start practicing is in our lives right now. I ask you, where in your life is there an opportunity to choose love? Where in your life is there an opportunity for a transformation from hatred to love? My friends, our lives are never changed from something outside ourselves – it always comes from within. This is what I believe God wants of us. He wants us to continue to return ourselves to him. To his place of love and light. Only when we allow ourselves to do so, are we truly living in his way. Only when we allow ourselves to choose from our hearts and not from our reactive and fearful minds are we living in God’s image. And I truly believe that killing someone to teach us that killing is wrong is not a choice of the heart and not a choice of God. Thank You and God Bless You!
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