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2004-09-11 - 12:36 p.m.

No Way to Make Sense of the Senseless

What I wrote Thursday, September 13, 2001

I was checking my e-mail when our nephew, Ryan, who had been scheduled for a flying lesson the morning of September 11, 2001, called to ask if we had heard that terrorists had struck the World Trade Center. Ed said he had just heard it on the radio. I immediately switched on Channel 10 to a surreal scene as they replayed the tower mushrooming to the ground followed by a devastating fire in the financial district of New York City – a scene that looked more unreal than the special effects of a movie.

It fascinates me, in this age of television shows and movies, how we have come to depend upon dramatic clues to interpret events --how the narrative line slowly builds, how the background music is ominous, hinting toward danger, and then climaxes in some powerful event. That Tuesday morning, no screenwriter had done his homework, no composer had thought to point toward anything significant. There was no narrator to make sense of the senseless.

Silently, and as if in slow motion, a plane flies into a 110-story tower; flames leap and smoke billows; debris scatters; different free lance photographers deliver yet another camera angle. It becomes even more surrealistic as the screen is divided and the right half shows a smoking Pentagon; Peter Jennings announces a fourth plane has crashed in a Pennsylvania field, their efforts to attack the White House or Camp David apparently thwarted by rebellious heroic passengers. By this time our President is sequestered in an underground bunker somewhere in the heartland of our country.

This movie doesn't make sense. I sat for hours - motionless, transfixed before that large screen as it began to sink in that this was not a movie and not a game, but real life - we had been attacked - and it was happening now, and I was numb, unbelieving. When the towers fell again and again, day after day, rerun after rerun –an agonized voice rose from within me, “Can this really be happening?”

Now, two days later, like the debris from those scenes of horror, my thoughts also are still flying, falling, settling, like a pile of rubble that still must be sifted for meaning. Like the rescue workers searching for survivors and the FBI searching for clues, my search for meaning will take a long time.

Now, only two things I know for sure. One is the profound grief I feel for those who died, those who were injured, all of those families who did not see their loved ones walk through the doors of their homes that night. A few hours passed and the reality hit that this terror was designed to strike at me, at the heart of every American; I phoned my son, Mark, who often travels across the country: “I hope you are at your desk, Mark…please call.” Later that day, it was comforting to hear his voice, as well as that of each of the other children, who soon called to ask how I was doing. I could only report, “I am filled with grief for the victims of this horrific attack.

For the past several days the middle school student I homeschool had been studying the Middle East and the U. S. /Israeli refusal to participate in the Conference on Racism and the continuing economic sanctions against Iraq. We had been reading the news and discussing the Middle East conflict. We suddenly had a new appreciation of what life must be like for those around the world who live daily with terrorism and constant unrest in their communities. How can we ever hope to repair the world when issues that face us are so far reaching and complex? How can we ever hope to heal when we already hear talk of war – of acts of revenge and retaliation that may threaten the lives of other innocent people.

As many people from countries far and near sent messages of sympathy and disbelief that something like this could happen in the U. S., the TV coverage showed Arabs cheering, perhaps speaking for many with, “Do you get it now?" Do you get now what it is like to live with constant threats of imminent violence, the ever-present anxiety and danger and fear that many people live with daily, not only in Israel, but also in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, all over the Middle East? How we in America have taken our freedom and peace for granted! Yes, now I am beginning to get it.

The second thing I know for sure is I have a sudden overwhelming admiration and appreciation for the firefighters, police officers, rescue workers, and countless others who have lent a hand, offered help, comforting the victims, donating blood, putting their dedication to service to others before their own welfare. Each and every one is a hero today.

Some time ago I received a story about a man and his daughter saying goodbye at the airport with the phrase, “I wish you enough…” When asked what that meant, the man said it was a wish that had been handed down in his family for generations. I share the sentiment:

"I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.
I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more,
I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirits alive.
I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear bigger.
I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.
I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.
I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final goodbye.”

Sorting through this series of surreal events, through layers of rage, grief and blame, I realize that to gain further meaning and to fully appreciate the joys in life again will take time. And like the disaster workers sifting through the wreckage, in the end I don't yet know what else I will find in my search.

When you’ve lost a loved one tragically and abruptly, seeing a new tragedy like this unfold before your eyes sends you reeling. It isn’t that I’m suffering flashbacks, although that acrid sick metallic taste of smoke seems to linger in my mouth when I see the flames light up the sky. It’s the flash-forwards that are causing me to lie awake at night – flash-forwards to what the victims, the injured and uninjured survivors, families, friends, and colleagues of those who are missing are experiencing now and will have to endure in the near future. It is the concern that the saber rattling I hear will lead to random acts of retaliation, as well as all-out World War III. My God! The horror! The heartache. Pain beyond all imagining.

Even my physical body remembers how it is to suffer this kind of emotional trauma. I walk around distractedly trying to keep busy and then I stop suddenly to weep. I watch television for a moment and turn it off. On and off. On and off. I can’t bear to watch; I can’t bear not to watch. I get the chills, followed by a feverish flush, followed by acute nausea. Much like when the numbness began to wear off and the horror and reality of Glen and Keith’s last few hours really began to sink in after the fire we had in our home that eventually took the life of my husband and son. I wake at 3, 4, and 5 a.m., Glen and Keith’s hospital rooms a vivid memory – flashbacks of the fire and its aftermath.

I seek to understand how these terrorists -- people who might have been our neighbors -- could have come to the point of abandoning their families, risking their lives for what must be solemn beliefs. What must their pain and suffering have been to get to this place? Is it like a cult who will follow their leader anywhere and in anyway?

As the media pundits call out for retaliation, few try to shed some light on what might motivate such anti-U. S. sentiment in the Middle East. One exception was ABC’s Jim Wooten, who reported that “Arabs see the U. S. as an accomplice of Israel, a partner in what they believe is the ruthless repression of Palestinian aspirations for land and independence.” He continued, “The most provocative issues: Israel's control over Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem; the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia near some of Islam's holiest sites; and economic sanctions against Iraq, which have been seen to deprive children there of medicine and food."

I believe it is so important to examine the highly contentious role of the United States in the Middle East in order to illuminate some of the forces that have given rise to this violent extremism. That, I think, would contribute far more to public security than do pundits calling endlessly for indiscriminate revenge. Violence is sure to beget more violence. Posse justice resembling the “Wanted, Dead or Alive” posters of yesteryear as advocated today by our President with a smirk on his face will not resolve the situation – in the short or long term. It is my prayer that our leaders and the people across the country who are devastated by this attack on our country will act like adults, not like children in a sand pile.

Although I am deeply saddened by what has happened, I plead with those responsible to deal with the perpetrators in a rational way that does not create more and longer-lasting ill will and future retaliations. Arrest, trial, dialogue, negotiation, a degree of compromise over the issues that plague us – whatever it takes to be responsible in our efforts to seek those guilty and not threaten the lives of more innocent people for the sake of proving our might. Two wrongs never make a right. Like the children in the sand pile, I think we need a lot of adult supervision right now. Are there enough adults?

I wish you enough adults…

I wish you enough…

Living Memorial Website


And Some Comments Today - Three Years Later

My worst fears have been realized three years later as I listen to the names of all those who died on what has become known as 9/11. We can now add perhaps as many as 40-50,000 more to that list. We’ll never know the names of all that have died in the name of 9/11 – all those who died in Afghanistan and Iraq - those in our armed forces, our enemies, as well as the innocent civilians our government euphemistically calls collateral damage.

I’ve devoted much of my reading time this past couple of years to try to better understand what brought the world to this sorry state, and I think I’m beginning to understand it a bit better than I did on 9/11/01. I’m still wishing for “adults” to help get us out of this mess.

Just today I got an e-mail from Hamiltonian, who has directed me to some of the books I’ve read most recently. Today in his blog, he asks the classic question: What’s going on in the Middle East? Why are people so upset? Why would Ramzi Yousef and Osama bin Laden do this?

Ramzi Yousef, the one who came up with the idea of ramming planes into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon in a coordinated attack via hijackings, gave an explanation that rather corroborates the conclusion I’ve come up with over the past three years. The U.S. is not an innocent bystander in all of this. At the end of World War II, we dropped atomic bombs, which killed tens of thousands of women and children in Japan, when our government knew Japan was about to surrender. In supporting capitalism over communism, the role of the CIA and our government in unauthorized activities during the Cold War, Central America, and Middle Eastern affairs, if not covert and virtually unknown, have mostly been overlooked by the American public. We have a provocative military, economic, and diplomatic presence in the Middle East; in fact, it might even be perceived as interference. Our economic sanctions could even be looked at as weapons of mass destruction in that they have greatest impact on women, children and elderly.

I still believe (pacifist perhaps that I am) that there may be more effective – and certainly less destructive – ways of dealing with the threat of terrorism.

Former Chinese Premier Chou En-lai once observed: “One of the delightful things about Americans is that they have absolutely no historical memory.” During the early 1950s, the CIA instigated several military forays into Communist China. In 1960, CIA planes with no provocation bombed Guatemala. In 1973, they encouraged a bloody revolt against Saddam Hussein. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II by William Blum, a valuable book for anyone interested in U.S. foreign policy, lists and tells about CIA interventions in 55 countries since 1945. We barely remember they happened.

Instead of winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, as was the predicted goal of the Bush Administration, this most recent war in Iraq may well have generated a feud like that of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s - only in gigantic proportions. In fact, instead of halting terrorism in the world, the war has to my eye escalated it, and I allege that as you are reading this, future terrorists with much longer memories of injustices and iniquities perpetrated on their people are being propagated in monstrous numbers. For the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex (MIIC)“terrorism” is the answer to a prayer. It replaces “communism” and the Cold War as their raison d’ ętre.


Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror by Richard A. Clarke

CBS News Follows War on Terrorism

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