Sep 122011
 
Note: The following is the text of my remarks at Batavia’s memorial on the 10th anniversary of 9/11
 
Thank you Mayor Schielke,
 
Please join me in also thanking Chief Deicke, Chief Schira and all the men and women of the Police and Fire Departments for the amazing work they do to protect us.
In his poem “This Being Human is a Guest House” Rumi suggested the following:
 
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
 
How, even ten years later, could we conceive of being grateful for the horrific momentary awareness that visited our house on September 11, 2001? How can we ever forget or forgive the violent deaths represented by the candles that remind us that the light of 3023 lives has been extinguished?
It turns out “How?” is seldom the right question. A better question is “Why?” Why should we choose gratitude? Because here, in this moment, we have a choice about how to move forward.
We can choose sadness, or it’s painful relative, depression, as our guide. But anyone who has lost a loved one knows that sadness, grief and depression become a hole out of which we must climb if we ever hope to begin moving forward.
If not sadness, we could choose anger, or it’s more vicious, destructive relative, hatred. But if we choose hatred, then those who, on this day ten years ago, were motivated by hatred have won. We will have been recruited by them into the dark side of our nature…the side of our humanity that has always dragged us backward.
So if not sadness or anger, perhaps we should choose fear, or terror…cower and tremble in a corner. But that path forward truly dishonors the 3023 we are here to remember.
So if not sadness, depression, anger, hatred, fear or terror, then what.
We might choose…admiration…admiration for the more than 300 public servants who raced with courage into harms way, and gave their lives to keep thousands of other lives from being extinguished.
We might even, as the poet Rumi suggests, choose gratitude. We could be grateful for the billions of acts of generosity—both large and small—that erupted during the past ten years. We could be grateful for each person who came here tonight hoping to find a new way forward. Look around and be grateful for the intentions, hopes and humanity of these, your neighbors.
We might even choose joy. Why joy? Because the 3023 lives extinguished on 9/11 contributed to humanity before their tragic end. In the late 1970s, I taught Algebra and Geometry to a quiet, young man named Richard Guadagno. Rich went on to become a naturalist and inspire hundreds to love the wilderness that remains on this planet we lovingly call Mother Earth. Rich was on United flight 93 that ended its journey, and his, in a field in Pennsylvania. He is represented by one of these candles tonight. I will choose to honor Rich’s life by remembering the joy he brought to so many…including me.
 9 years ago tonight we stood here silent and sad, because 10 years ago we stood in disbelief. Tonight we stand here having been given an opportunity to turn our dis-belief into new beliefs…and make new choices.
There have been nearly 316 million seconds since the tragedies of 9/11. 316 million moments of truth in which I could have chosen, with heart ripped open, the possibility of becoming new.
At the memorial nine years ago, I said,
 
“It is not within my power to change anyone but myself. So here is the commitment I make. I will honor the pain by living each moment with more kindness and generosity… honor the loss of loved ones by living each moment with more awareness of the needs of those around me…honor the loss of my sense of humanity by living each moment with more integrity and love. And I will honor each of you by trying ever more diligently to understand—truly understand—our differences and disagreements.”
 
It has been said that the path forward can seem backward and the path into light seems dark. As I ignite a few of the candles that will share their light with us, I pray to be shown ways in which I might shine light wherever there is darkness, joy wherever there is sadness, gratitude wherever there is hopelessness, and love wherever there is hatred.
Tonight I ask you join me in making new choices that will move us all forward with a new understanding of what it means to be human.
Thank You
Aug 052011
 
The following will be published in the next issue of Neighbors of Batavia Magazine.
Like a modern day Parthenon, it wore the ravages of time—but this monument to human endurance had no one to defend it against old age, or protect it for future generations. It stood pockmarked and failing, left as nothing more than a canvas for modern day artists and their graffiti. It stood as a memorial to what appeared to be a very different age.
Judi and I were examining this concrete formation in a digital image from our daughter Kathryn. On it, stood twelve students from her summer program in eastern Europe. “Do you have any idea what we’re standing on?” Kathryn asked via Skype. “It’s all that remains of the luge track from the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.” I was stunned! A feeling of sadness and loss assaulted me. This immense sculpture, which appeared to be from a much earlier age, was only 30 years old; a mere child in the panoply of human construction. Yet this child sat neglected and unloved.
Then Kathryn lobbed a verbal bombshell I found vastly more disturbing than the digital image on my computer screen; one that explained the premature aging of the luge track. “During the tour of Sarajevo, the guide insisted we remain on the path he traversed…if we were to stray, we would run the risk of detonating a land mine.”
I had to catch my breath. My little girl, one of two young adults I have tenaciously guarded and protected for the majority of my adult life, was walking the terrain ravaged by the Bosnian War that raged from April 1992 to December 1995.
As we sat in the comfort of our home, intimately and immediately connected to our daughter by the Internet, yet separated by thousands of miles, she proceeded to take us on a pictorial tour of Sarajevo; each image littered with the remnants of war…hundreds of buildings that still wore the scars of bullets and mortars.
In the weeks since our virtual pilgrimage to war-torn Sarajevo, I have been dragged back many times to images of life in a country where children live in constant fear of straying from the path…children who have lost the opportunity to roam freely and explore the land where they live. And while I am aware there are many places in America where children live in fear of straying from their homes, there is simply nothing in my life experience that can help me understand what it would mean not to be able to stroll the thousands of fields and forests I have wandered and explored over 60 years.
As I travel the roads and byways of America, I see much human creation vandalized by graffiti. And while most disappoints or angers me, an occasional image reveals artistic potential, or strikes an indispensable note about what it means to be human. But land mines are the hellish graffiti born of hatred and human conflict with no possible redemptive value. It is bad enough we scar human creation with pigment, but it is simply inexcusable to have scarred with explosives that which was created and left for us by the eternal.
Then, finally, I wonder if even my child has been left scared by the journey. In spite of my desire to protect her, will her experience of the results of hatred and conflict detonate within her some time in her future? Actually, I am hopeful it will. I am hopeful, as a result of experiencing humanity in ways I never could, she and her generation will find ways to diffuse the next generation of bombs, mortars and land mines before they too can be used to ravage tomorrow’s monuments to human creativity and endurance.