Remembering September 11, 2001
This week marks the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. As I pause to reflect on the events that have unfolded since then I am struck, both by the human ability to cope with almost any crisis and the seeming inability to learn in certain areas. On the one hand the tales of heroism by families that lost a loved one and the people who reached out to help are inspirational. On the other hand I wonder what is it about human beings that gives us this capacity to create anger and hate against another human being that is externally different from us and wants us to destroy the other person. On many levels human being over the years have demonstrated the tremendous capability to learn and deal with nature, the physical world, diseases etc. Otherwise we would not be flying in airplanes, reading this blog, or working on the 100th floor of office buildings. But when it comes to the futility of a cycle of hatred and violence we seem unable to draw any lessons.
Last year in the days following the September 11 attacks I sent the email below to some friends.
My friends Maureen, Hal, and I just came back from a very moving gathering in downtown Palo Alto near Stanford University. It was an interfaith gathering of human beings in support of Peace, Justice, and Healing organized by the First Presbyterian Church of Palo Alto in an open air plaza in the middle of the downtown area. There were about 400 people. It was organized as a prayer meeting and started off with a Muslim Cleric reciting verses from the Koran, followed by Catholic Priests, Buddhist ministers, Jewish Rabbi, Quakers, Mormon Clerics, representatives from the Bahai faith, Black Baptist ministers, and a number of varied faiths from all around the San Francisco bay area. The message throughout the evening was one of love, peace, tolerance, compassion, forgiveness, and healing. Joan Baez was there and led us all in song in her beautiful voice. It was a small enough gathering that I was able to go up to her and give her a hug and thank her for helping us with the healing process. But I was too emotional and was barely able to say much between the tears. She just gave me another hug and said we all need this healing process. Her niece also sang another song in a beautiful voice that shows much promise.
There were Arab-Americans and Muslim women with their head covered in the gathering. A Lebanese-Palestinian- American spoke and talked about all the terrorism and mayhem he had witnessed growing up and how he loved this country for accepting him . They are all struggling with the pain like everyone else. In fact when a Muslim cleric or speaker spoke or led us in prayer the applause was the loudest. Clearly the message from the people present was that we need to
get through this together and not turn against each other. People held hands, hugged each other, sang together, and wept openly. It was a moving
ceremony. I wept several times as did my friends who were with me all of us of different ethnic heritages.
It has been an emotionally exhausting week for all of us. I have wept a few times through the week. I think I am grieving for many things - at the immediate loss, destruction, and displacement in NY/DC. I am also grieving for the loss of a free and trusting way of life. I am grieving at the fear of the unimaginable limits of evil that human beings can go to. I am grieving at our inability to comprehend both the scale of what happened and why people do what they just did.
Everyday on my way to work I go through a list of ten different things that I am grateful for. A different list for each day. On many days a fact that made the list was the fact that we live in a time of such peace and prosperity. The second was that we live in such a multi-cultural world united in many ways while at the same
time celebrating our diversity. I think I am grieving because I am frightened that this may change.
My hope is that there will be lots of love, patience, and healing around the world over the next several months. On the one hand we have to create a
world where these events don't happen while at the same time we don't lose the above things I am grateful for. We have to preserve this beautiful world
we know because we borrowed it from our children.
(In June 2001, I was in the mountains of Colorado rafting rivers and climbing mountains as part of an outward bound course. Tom Peterson was one of the people with me during this program. Tom wrote the thought provoking article below shortly after September 11, 2001)
I have a two year old child. Two. The age where they say 'I'm two my next birthday" and hold up any number of fingers not understanding age or the
fact that the next birthday they speak of has long since past. She is now laying on my lap, in my arms, head folded forward and eyes closed. She
I lean forward and push the fine blond hair from her temple and rest my lips there long enough to feel the warmth of her soul and I know I am on
the kissing spot and that is what I do. Not once or twice or even three times but more as my eyes peer out the window and thoughts of the world
swirl and I think if I were to die this would certainly be a wonderful way to go. With that I look at her and I wonder what would become of her or
would she perish with me. Would that be better?
I just finished reading an email written to the perpetrators of the horrendous crime that has turned our world and knocked it off the axis we
are so familiar and comfortable with. Things are turning a bit differently now and no one has yet learned to walk on this platform which spins beneath
our feet differently than it once did. There is talk of love and hatred, each side calling one another a coward. Each speaks of God as if he is the
captain of one team and not the other and each side claims him. They don't know much about us, we not much about them. They hate us. We don't know
enough about them to have had thoughts one way or the other nor did we really care but now we hate them- whoever they are.
I look at my daughter and I think that in this country she could grow to be a Muslim. Certainly she was born into and being raised as a Christian but
in this country people end up making decisions as to how they will lead their own lives. So I wonder what benefit is it to perform such acts and
plant a seed deep within her that shall possibly create an enemy with both knowledge and hatred of them when in fact she could choose to follow that
faith some day. But this coin is not unlike any other which has another side.
We are hated. Hated by a people who have had countless bombs dropped from their sky for countless reasons killing innocent people and babies- such as
the one I am holding both in my arms and my heart. Are those parents who lost children and children who lost parents different than I or my child?
Do I understand what it is like to live day by day fearing attacks?
We have now tasted the acid of such an event. We are now starting to live a similar kind of life were we fear such things as getting on a plane for
vacation, attending an event like those which draw large crowds to football and baseball games where we watch multimillionaires play a sport.
I dare say we have a long way to go before we are as steeled to it as they and are able to walk down a street as the gunfire is chatting with such
predictability that newscasters have no problem capturing it for us to see from the comfort of our homes.
Cowards- they to us, we to them. They willing to train for years to meet their ends and give their lives in fighting their fight against a
super-power- cowards? We, willing to openly march in with the might a world power holds to protect our soil and freedom- cowards? I think not in
either case and what difference does it make anyway. Is it just another reason for one to condone a planned offensive or defensive move?
Who is right, who is wrong- both sides know the answer and that is why we are about to go to war. It is always the other side and both sides now
have enough hurt and pain to prove it and to march.
What should we do? I do not know. There is fear, there is doubt, there is questioning. Each one of us will sort through these things and come to our
own opinion and those will be debated as time goes on and in the days to come. But now I must trust in our leaders and support them. As the debates
commence, we must continue to be unified as there is no real answer- right or wrong. There is only action and reaction, circumstance and response,
cause and affect. We debate the lessons of history and disagree, how do we know the results of todays actions upon tomorrow? We can only go
forward and hope as going forward in a straight line offers more predictable consequences than stumbling all about.
One thing is for sure, though, it cannot happen again. The pain, the damage, the suffering, the agony. It is just too devastating. It just
cannot happen again- not just here but anywhere. Not by any group or to any group. So I guess we need to do it again- just one last time: just like Grandpa did and great grandpa and those before him.
As I lay my daughter down I look at the peacefulness there before me and I know that all children are like this where-ever they call home. And I
realize that seeds are being planted in these children both here and afar to hate. Those seeds will germinate, they will sprout and my daughter
will be hated by those she does not know and it is also possible she may well learn to hate those who do not know her.
With this in mind I lean over and place my lips to her kissing spot and hope for the best for all. The peace and tranquility in planting that kiss
and feeling the warmth of her soul through my lips cause me to think if I were to die this would certainly be a wonderful way to go.