fresh voices from the front lines of change







Joe Biden famously said of Rudy Giuliani, "There's only three things he mentions in a sentence -- a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There's nothing else! There's nothing else!" Great line. But this is not a day to talk about Joe Biden or Rudy Giuliani. But it is a day for that kind of sentence: A noun, a verb, and 9/11.

In 2001 I had just left a job in lower Manhattan and found one in New Jersey. People I knew well died that day. It was my neighborhood, my subway stop, my friends on the television. I served on a committee with one of the dead, who was giving a presentation that day in a conference room at Marsh Inc. I knew that room well.

Remembering someone on 9/11.

We could have reacted all sorts of ways to this horrible event. The poet e.e. cummings said "I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing than to teach ten thousand stars how not to dance."

We leave our singing to the folks on American Idol these days. Being a singer or songwriter is barely a paid job anymore. But the "teaching stars not to dance" business is going great guns. We're doing it in Afghanistan and Iraq every day. It costs a fortune. Meanwhile they're saying we can't afford Medicare anymore.

Thinking about Medicare on 9/11.

We're not-teaching in classrooms all across our own country. We are teaching something, though. We're teaching low-income and minority kids that they don't belong in this world. We're teaching them that with crumbling schools, underpaid and understaffed faculties, and medical neglect. Meanwhile we're teaching more prosperous kids our own fears, or own xenophobia, our own biases.

"Don't limit a child to your own learning," said Rabindranath Tagore, "for he (or she) was born in another time."

Looking for good teachers on 9/11.

Cummings also said, "A wind has blown the rain away and blown the sky away and all the leaves away, and the trees stand."

Ten years is a long time to dwell on death, if death is all we dwell on. "I think, I too, have known autumn too long," cummings added. Death, and hatred.

Entering autumn on 9/11.

What was the final death toll in Norway? 91? 93? And the bloggers and hatemongers the killer admired aren't even fazed by it all.

So we try to stop them and the others, too, the one who don't want an Islamic community center in the old Burlington Coat Factory building near the World Trade Center site. They say it's "sacred ground" in the heart of New York City. That would, of course, be the same New York City they say isn't the "real America" because it's not an all-white rustic village in the heart of some state that adores Sarah Palin.

Okay, okay, we tell ourselves. Don't be an *****. Just keep standing up for your own principles and hope for the best. We're not well-equipped for this line of work, we tell ourselves sometimes. It gets aggravating.

Doing our best with what we've got on 9/11.

Now we have a handsome, charismatic, biracial President. But the camps remain open and the wars go on. Torture goes unpunished. "This is a time for looking forward," we're told.

Theologian Dietrich Boenhoffer said "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness with no repentance." Nut there's been no repentance asked, and none offered. What's the name of Dick Cheney's autobiography? I forget.

The Nazis executed Boenhoffer by hanging him.

Waiting for repentance,and offering forgiveness in return, on 9/11.

A group of friends - more like "friends of friends," actually - met regularly before work or at lunch time, to discuss our problems or just be there for one another. Sometimes we met in Building #7. One of them repeated on old aphorism laced with curse words: There are ****'s in this world. You might meet one on any given day. On a really bad day you might meet two. But if you meet more than two, then you're the ****.

I said, "Hey, I met seven on the way to work this morning."

I was never able to track him down. Don't know if he made it. But that observation comes in handy all the time.

Using good advice on 9/11.

People are afraid today. Some people don't want to get on an airplane because it's the ten-year anniversary. I thought twice about it, too. But what the hell. "The fear of death follows from the fear of life," said Mark Twain.

There's danger in everything: In catching a plane. In riding a bus. In walking into a roomful of sick children in Calcutta to feed them soup. But there's certainty in locking yourself behind a wall of fear. it's the certainty of a miserable, empty life. It's the certainty of the negative, dark nation they tried to make us become after the towers fell.

"After the final no there comes a yes," said poet Wallace Stevens, "and on that yes the future of the world hangs." And e.e. cummings said that "yes in the only living thing."

It's 9/11. Whatever happens today, here's hoping for a big yes tomorrow. To use Joe Biden's words: There's nothing else! There's nothing else.

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