Post # 164 A Recipe for Peace

September 11, 2013 at 11:23 AM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 164 A Recipe for Peace

Twelve years ago, I was sitting in my office at work just across the Potomac from Washington, D.C.  It was fairly early in the morning, when my news alert on my computer announced that a plane had just hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  I rushed down the long hallway to the a friend’s office.  He had a small TV there, actually one that I’d given him as I didn’t want it any more.  We watched and listened to news reports about what happened.  A dread suspicion was growing in my stomach, and I prayed that it was “simple” pilot error.  I’ve worked my whole life with computers and have spent years on airplanes.  For such a large plane to make that kind of error, well, it just couldn’t happen.

I went back to my office to call my wife.  All pretense of work was suspended as everyone in the metropolitan area was glued to television, radio, and computer news.  We talked about it and she offered the explanation that it might have something to do with the protests of the World Monetary Fund meeting taking place in Seattle, or thereabouts, at the time.  That seemed a little too out of their range to me.  There was a name I’d been hearing more and more recently, during my travels for the State Dept. and my time at home.  Bin Laden.  He was supposed to be behind attacks on two American embassies in Africa, as well as the bombing of an aircraft carrier in the Middle East.

A few minutes after we hung up, our minds reeled at the news that the second tower had been hit.  I knew immediately we were under attack.  Again, we were glued to the five inch black and white screen watching over and over as the plane hit the building.  I ached for those in the buildings and in the planes.  I wanted to shout at the people on the ground to move, to get out of the way.

Then, a short time later, I felt our building shake a little.  “What the hell?” I thought.  Before I had a chance to even put my fingers to my keyboard, one of the senior managers was running down the hall alerting staff to the fact that a plane just hit the Pentagon, a quarter of a mile from our building.  The entire metro area was being evacuated.

I immediately got on the phone to my wife.  “Get home.” I told her.  “I don’t care what excuse you give them, quit if you have to.  Get away from the airport, and get home.  Call your parents and let them know what’s happening.”

I called my sister-in-law who worked in D.C.  I said, “Get out of the city.  I’m sorry I don’t know how to tell you how to do that, but you have to get out of the city.”

I made several other calls that morning to let friends and colleagues know what was happening.  I was a subcontractor working for another firm, and I had four other employees under me.  The primary contractor had not given the okay to leave the office for the day, but I told my people to go home.  The senior manager tried to tell me I didn’t have authority to do that, but I told her that I was going to make certain that my staff was safe; that she was free to act in any way she chose with her staff.

While we were having this discussion, word came from her company that we could evacuate so it became moot.  A couple of senior managers and myself stayed to make sure everyone was off our floor before we started to head out.  I suddenly realized that there were several maintenance workers in another part of the building doing remodeling who might not have heard.  I ran to their area and explained as best I could given our language barriers.  They got the point and started leaving, as well.

I took metro into work most days and I knew that train stations would be packed.  I was standing outside trying to decide how to get the thirty miles home done, when a coworker offered a ride.  My jeep was parked at one of the metro stations and he offered a lift to it.  What was normally a fifteen to twenty minute drive took us nearly three hours.  Despite the bumper to bumper traffic and slow speeds, courtesy prevailed over panic.  I didn’t hear about a single accident that day.  By the time I got home, Several hours had passed.  We had heard about the plane going down in Pennsylvania.  We had cried when we heard the towers had fallen.  Air traffic had been suspended and the skies were eerily quiet.  Telephone lines were choked with emergency calls.  Television stations, local and national, were trying to give out what little information they had in a coherent manner, trying to separate the truth from rumor.

The sense of unreality was palpable.  I kept thinking that I was going to wake up and it wouldn’t have happened.  My mind kept reeling at the sheer number of innocent people who had perished, both in the events and the aftermath.  I wondered where the madness came from.

This is the first time I’ve written about what happened that day.  It’s as fresh today as if it happened today.  I recall my anger, my feeling of inadequacy, my need to strike out in any way I could.  Mostly, I wanted something to make sense in a senseless day.

Over a decade has gone by.  Soon, there will be a whole generation alive who weren’t alive on that day.  It’s said that time heals all wounds.  I’m not sure about that anymore.

I’ve often been accused of being “Joebecca of Sunnybrook Farms”, the eternal optimist.  I’m the guy who can find the best in any situation, from missing a plane (well, now I can watch my favorite show on TV) to breaking my leg (well, I’ll get to be off my feet for a little while.)  It’s been over a decade and I’ve yet to find the best of this situation.  Except one.

I felt a lot of anger, aggression, turmoil in the days that followed.  I normally try not to get angry because it’s not a helpful emotion.  I didn’t like what I was feeling so I looked at it very closely and discovered a truth in all that emotion and in the events of that day.

A few years later, I was in a group discussion about 9/11 with some colleagues.  One of the ladies asked me what I thought about it.

“We needed it.” I replied.

This woman was notorious for her acerbity and quick anger.  But she looked at me and said, “I’m going to let you explain that before I rip your face off.”

I explained.  “In my travels, one thing I learned is that America and Americans are very arrogant about our lifestyle.  Those who have not experienced other cultures and those cultures successes honestly believe that it’s America’s way or no way.  We live in one of the largest nations by landspace with little diversity and both borders protected by our neighbors.  We’ve been insulated for so many years, we believed we could not be attacked within our own borders.  So we didn’t prepare for that.  We couldn’t conceive of a way that we could be attacked.  But now we know that’s not true.  Our country is working to protect itself from within as well as from without.  We needed a wake up call, and we got one that could not be ignored.”

So how do you create peace out of war?  How do you protect one way of life from another?  How do you resolve the grievances one people feel for another?

Let’s talk to Aretha Franklin about that.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Our nation was founded on freedom, on the concept of respecting our fellow humans.  The Golden Rule, the Eleventh Commandment, the Ethic of Reciprocity, it’s found in all cultures and all religions.  Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.  Father, forgive me as I forgive others.  Never impose on others what you do not choose for yourself.

It’s about learning.  It’s about accepting.  It’s about wanting to be fair.  That’s the recipe for peace, whether it’s two kids playing in a sandbox, or two countries fighting over a “line drawn in the sand.”  America and Americans cannot be arrogant.  The rest of the world cannot be unforgiving.

The recipe for peace is respect, pure and simple.

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