“We don’t even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.”
— Isabel Allende
I was initially going to stay away from the subject of what happened on September 11, 2001, but it isn’t entirely possible. Not really. Not when the national consciousness is not ready yet to move very far forward, not when the losses closer to home were so devastating.
I live in an area that felt the aftermath of that day very strongly – my kids were in a school district that included a village of 5000 losing 5 firefighters that day, the schools were forced to dismiss the students early because so many panicked parents wanted their children close to them. Not only the deaths, but the injuries, the illnesses caused by the dust, the post-traumatic stress – these all proved to be a very heavy cost for a region full of New York City first responders, and many, many commuters. One child in my daughter’s class at school was picked up by relatives early in the day, and never returned, because life could never go back to normal for that family. For far too many families. Two very nice men that I used to take the train with before my company relocated were lost. Other parts of the region were also hit incredibly hard – with many communities losing may people.
I remember that morning too clearly. Calling home after first finding out about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center to see if they had more news – were we at war?. Going out for walk to try to clear my head, and failing to understand how those beautiful clear blue skies could have held so much pain. Feeling completely helpless as anguished coworkers scrambled to reach family members – husbands, wives, children – that lived or worked in lower Manhattan. How coworkers located in the upper floors of a building across the river watched in horror as the devastation unfolded. Yes, I certainly do remember, and although it does not dominate my life, I am unlikely to ever forget.
But I remember, too, the rush to war with the wrong enemy – and how that left a nation deeply divided, with many still lusting for blood fourteen years later. I remember how we lost the moral high ground, and wasted the good will that other nations felt for us. How we, as a nation, compounded our tragedy instead of moving forward to heal. So yes, I remember, but I’m not waving flags, sharing mournful, or even inspiring, memes. In order to heal, as a nation, we need to move forward. Remember all of the lives lost so senselessly, yes, but also acknowledge what was wrong with our response. Realize that our actions, ultimately, were what Osama bin Laden wanted – we increased instability in a highly volatile region with no real plan for how it would end. Accept the fact the we were lied to, understand that torture does not work like it does in Hollywood – it’s morally wrong and rarely provides anything useful, recognize that not all Muslims are evil. The first step to compassion and world peace is to break far enough through the ‘not like me’ thinking to put faces on those that are not the same as you – to see that they have lives, and family, too. To understand that we are all humans trying our damnedest to get by on this tiny planet. As the song says “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me”.
In the words of Lao Tzu:
“If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.”