I wrote the following article for my professional association’s newsletter as president of the local chapter. We were to have a lunch meeting on 9/11, but what we did instead was stand together in the bar at the hotel and watch the horror unfold on the TV. We cried unashamedly.
I went back to work after a while, but I still cried. I felt shocked and heartbroken. I reached my daughters, away at the dance conservatory. We had only dropped them off two weeks before. They were seniors in high school. They were 700 miles away. We cried together on the phone, grieving over the day’s events and mourning our distance.
Ronald was at an international firefighters golf tournament in Ohio. We only had one cell phone back then, and I kept it in the glove compartment of my car in case the car broke down. I could only reach Ronald by calling his hotel. I left him a teary message. He called back to tell me he was okay. Others had been called to go home, and they rented cars and drove. He would not have to go to NYC because he was a first responder not an EMT, and they still thought they needed search and rescue teams.
The fright and shock continued over the next several days, and as I stood outside with the dog, I was frightened by silence. All planes were grounded. When I heard F16s flying overhead the next day, sounding so loud I thought they were on the roof, I panicked then ran outside to watch them.
This article appeared in our October 2001 newsletter. I think it is as timely today as it was ten years ago, particularly in its plea not to hate. Hate stems from fanaticism and fear. We see it here in America every day. People hate others for sexual orientation, religious views, skin color, race, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, but what it really is, is fear of what they consider different or a threat to their “way of life.” The Tea Party rose from the ashes of 9/11 and grew emboldened by the election of our first black president, and their fear and hatred are pervasive. Changes and events demand that we accept a new vision of America, one that is inclusive rather than exclusive, and that celebrates our strength in diversity. There is room for all of us, even the Tea Partiers (maybe they can have Texas – but I grow flippant).
By the way, I quoted Paine below, not to call for arms and war (I’m a pacifist), but to call each of us to the service of our country and its people, and it is true now as then. Our country needs us to be present and helping in crisis, not hiding behind fear, rhetoric, and hate, but engaging in real dialog and solutions.
(President’s Message, ARMAil, Vol. 11, No. 2, October 2001)
"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of men and women." Thomas Paine, 1776
On 9/11/2001 our lives changed. No longer will we look at a plane flying overhead in quite the same way. The skyline of NYC is forever changed. The image of the 2nd plane crashing into the tower will replay in our minds as if it were the first time over and over again. The faces of countless rescue workers, police and firefighters, overwhelmed by the loss and devastation, will stay with us. The loss of life, both of the innocents who were just going about their daily routine and that of the rescue workers who were there because of their sense of duty, is devastating. The area where the World Trade Center complex of buildings stood, the side of the Pentagon and the field where the 4th plane crashed look like war zones. Our very psyches are scarred.
This will not be the first or last time the souls of humankind are tried. Life is a trial. We can’t anticipate this kind of colossal devastation handed to us by nature or mankind, but we can buffer the shock and pain by remembering that acceptance will help us heal and become stronger. Acceptance will help us not to react irrationally but with calm and deliberate action. Acceptance will help us look inside and define our true intentions.
I’m not a proponent of war; however, I realize our government must and will do something. I hope for justice rather than retaliation and the loss of more innocent lives. I think the one thing I wish for in the healing of our country, our people and for the whole world, is, that we, as individuals, become kinder, gentler and more introspective. We need to examine our priorities. We need to think about what is truly important. We need to dispense with selfish motives and support the well being of our communities and the people who live and work in them.
At the moment of the crisis were you thinking about your work, your finances or what you wanted to buy next? No. You were thinking about the people who were on the planes and in the buildings. You were thinking about your families and your loved ones. You wanted to hold your loved ones. You wanted to reach out to help those suffering emotional and physical pain. You wanted to DO something to make it better.
You realized you love this crazy-quilt country we call the United States of America. You recognized the freedoms we take for granted and may have, in fact, lost. You understood that some of our daily complaints and inconveniences are insignificant. You saw the ugliness and devastation hate could cause. You wondered if your heart could hate at such intensity.
As these events continue to unfold before us, no one can predict the outcome. The only known factor is how we will cope with this particular trial that has come into our lives. Because this enemy of our freedoms is so elusive, it is easy to target someone else. It is easy to profile anyone who looks Arab and funnel all our feelings of hate and anger at that individual. But it is wrong. It is as wrong as the government was in WWII when it forced all Japanese Americans into internment camps. It is as wrong as the police pulling over African Americans because they fit the ‘profile’ of someone who would commit a crime. Yes, there are certainly some terrorists living amongst us – at least one had a white face, and his name was Timothy McVeigh, but we didn’t suddenly become suspicious of every white American male we came in contact with after he committed his terrorist act. The face of a terrorist or a murderer is not one face or one ethnicity, but many. No true religion would support the killing of innocent people, and the Islamic religion is no different. We cannot believe that one person’s fanaticism represents all who share his religion and ethnicity, so accusations based on emotion and bias are hurtful, dangerous, and, in some cases, deadly.
We are grieving this tragic turn in our lives. There are seven phases in the grief process: shock, denial, anger, guilt, depression, acceptance and growth. Many people are now experiencing anger, guilt (why did I live and others did not) and depression. If we can each move through the phases to acceptance, at our own pace, there is hope for a positive outcome from this devastation.
Maybe then we will remember the way we pulled together, and how we remembered to tell our loved ones how important they are to us. Perhaps we will understand that hate is evil and is not an emotion most of us will ever feel fully at its true and destructive depth, but love is boundless and can heal the most gaping emotional wound. We will appreciate the great diversity of the citizens of our country and the world. We will remember many people came to this country to escape oppression in their homelands. We will understand that one way is not the only way, but respect and equal, dignified treatment need to be universal and present in all cultures. We may realize that our materialistic ways and our determination to fill every minute and hour of the day with sometimes meaningless tasks have numbed us to our real emotions, and, just maybe, we will actually take the time to just be.
From there, the last phase, growth, will take hold, and we will all be better people and help create a better world because of this trial we have endured. Let us not forget 9/11/2001. Let us accept its inevitability and learn from it.