I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. I think most people do. We were in Niger, our first post overseas. It was getting to the end of the day, and I was in the middle of hosting the book club meeting at a lovely space next door to the Embassy compound. The seven spouses who had joined me for that meeting and I were talking about whatever book it was that we had read, when another spouse came up to us and asked us if we had heard about what had just happened in New York. A plane had slammed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Impossible, we thought. Who would do such a thing? Impossible. And so began the next chapter of all of our lives, when the impossible just kept happening.
We chatted for a few minutes, and I knew that in the absence of actual information, the half-truths or imagined truths would start to fly about. Part of my job was to help control rumors, and I knew I needed to get back to work – regardless of the hour, regardless that the day was pretty much finished – and find out what I could do to contribute. As I went up to the room where the larger staff meetings were held, I heard the television on. I saw other folks in the room, all with shocked expressions on their faces, solemnly watching the television where the news announcers were talking about the tragedy that was happening back at home.
We watched, shocked, as airplanes flew into buildings, repeatedly, it seemed, thanks to instant replay. We couldn’t believe what was happening. Still, to this day, I watch the film of that awful morning, and it still seems like a far-fetched Hollywood plot, poorly executed: who would believe that string of events? Airplanes flying into the World Trade Center? Right, and next Godzilla will hit L.A. Impossible. And certainly, there would not be more flights hijacked; one was contrived enough.
In the years that follow, we have seen even more seemingly impossible things happen. We have entered and now left a war waged against groups claiming responsibility for that horrible day and so many others. Again and again, we wake to the news of more senseless death and destruction. It is a part of what is now, as much as democracy is. Sadly, we add this to our definition of what is ‘normal’ now.
Terrorists don’t care about people. They want to make a statement. They want to take away. Somehow, someone has told these men and women taking these horrific actions that the best way to achieve their mission is to end the lives of others. They want to draw a decisive line in the sand, and point across, telling their followers that they are right and we who are on the other side of that line are wrong; that they are best and we are not worthy. Are they proud of what they have done? Is this an accomplishment? I just can’t see how it could be; how can taking the lives of others be a goal? We live in a day and age where terrorism is indeed inevitable. You know what terrorists are? Bullies. Bullies win by getting others to fear them. How do you get a bully to back down? Stand up to him. Show him you do not fear what he is doing, saying, standing for; rather, stand up for what you know to be a better way of choice: the choice of allowing others to dream and live and be. Random killing of innocent people? That’s not being brave and standing up for what is right; that’s just mean and thoughtless. When you attack those who are unaware, you are not winning.
I am so saddened by this whole thing as a person, as a caring human being who honestly does her best to find the good in people. I am even more disheartened by this as a mom who has kids scrambling to grow and find their footing in this world. What is this world we are giving to our kids? One where we have to tell our kids over breakfast that another bombing or shooting has happened and more fathers, mother, sisters, brother, sons and daughters - people - lost their lives?
I was trying to explain the significance of the upcoming 9/11 events to my kids, because they deserve to know the truth. I try to help them realize the awfulness of what people can do or make happen. My three, being the ages that they are, see and hear about real life, sure, but they still like to believe in things like Star Wars and Transformers, and hope that maybe, just maybe, Mom is wrong and this is all just a bad plot for a movie. It would end in 100+ minutes, right? Once, when we were talking about this, and one of my boys gave the suggestion that everyone who wants a gun should only get a play gun – maybe a water gun – and no one would be seriously injured. They keep asking me, “Why, Mom? Why would anyone do this?” and I just didn’t even know how to answer. Their 'why?' echoes in my heart because I just don't know. I want to help them understand but I cannot myself find any reason at all, can’t fathom why one would ever commit such an act against others. There is, in this case, clearly guilty people, but how do they get to this breaking point? I am not pointing fingers. I am suggesting, though, that there exists a pattern of pathologically not accepting responsibility for our actions and words in our world today. Maybe our collective lack of ability to accept culpability is at the heart of this. At our house 'not me' and 'I dunno' play a key role in various acts around the house. I think probably the hardest three words for any growing child to really fully grasp and own are: I. did. and it. Why is it so hard for kids to accept responsibility for some action? Maybe it's because they don't see enough adults modeling the appropriate behavior, or perhaps because they see a number of adults modeling exactly the kind of behavior we DON’T want our kids to adopt: the finger-pointing, the name-calling and the flag-waving. I know it’s hard. Owning up is a very very hard thing to do, stepping up to take responsibility, to face the potential and unknown wrath, to accept blame. It is hard. But, it also has to be done. And then we can move on. It’s not about blame. It’s about changing so we don’t do it again. Learning and moving on. Let's not wake up to yet another story; let's bring change.
There is no good that comes out of senseless violence. This is not about us and them. This is not about religion, skin color or partner preference. This is not about sides. This is about senseless, hurtful hatred. This is about lack of compassion and ability to see. This is inhumanity; we are all humans so this act of horribleness is against all of us.
I dare say there is no God out there that would say that what they stand for and what philosophies they expound are the one and only right one. I am not especially religious but I do believe myself to be kind, generous, and accepting. I am understanding of others, and listen to what is important to others, giving them the right to continue to believe as they so choose. I have my own opinions, but I do not believe mine are the right ones for everyone. I do my best to teach my boys that they have the right to the beliefs they settle upon, so long as their beliefs do not infringe on the rights or beliefs of others. They have the right to dream as they want, the right to aim for their goals, and the right to work hard to achieve them.
Terrorists aren’t like that. Terrorists want people to only believe as they do. In their eyes, those that don’t believe as they do deserve to die. Some kill indiscriminately, some pick and choose, giving women and children pardon. Some aim for tourist destinations, some aim for places and/or countries whom they feel have done them wrong. Terrorists want to set limits and undermine established structure. They want to bring doubt and uncertainty. They want you to fear. And when you fear, they win.
May I not have to explain such atrocities to my children again. May my kids grow up in a world filled with less hate, and with a greater capacity to embrace what is different. I want them to live in a world that is open to imagination and dreams. Imagination and dreams look beyond what is and aim toward what could be. They embody growth and childhood and creativity. They get you out of the box. They lead to ambition and aspiration and positive change. I think it is imperative that at this moment, we hold those dear to us as close as possible. This is also the time when it is so incredibly important for us to reach out, too, because what makes us stronger are the ties that bind us to our Families (capital F) and families (small letter f). Your community, your neighbors, your fellow grocery store users. Each and every person has a role in your life and in theirs; they are important.
You know, maybe I do know what I want to say. You terrorist, listen up. You are not accomplishing anything. Oh sure, we’re watching every time you manage to take action, and you get your time in the news. But that is not a win. Yes, we are afraid. But that’s not a win, either. Being known as notorious is not the same thing as being revered. You bullies, you want to know why you will not win? Because we all dream, and we all work for a better day. We know what grief looks like, thanks to you. But we also know what beauty can come if you work hard and take care with others. You bullies, you will not win, because as every parent on this planet knows and has told their children (probably countless times): bullies never win. So back off.