It’s been a decade today, and I still wish it had never happened. Today, with a contemplative heart, I can not help but reflect on the mind-numbing tragedy of 10 years ago when the World Trade Center (buildings 1,2,…and 7) collapsed with remarkable precision, the Pentagon was bombed, and something plowed a trench into a field outside of Shanksville, PA. Thousands upon thousands of innocent people were killed that day, as well as the destruction of untold mountains of information and evidence, in one fell swoop.
I was in graduate school when it happened, getting ready for my morning, on my way to class. My mom called me and said, “The Twin Towers collapsed.” The news was so outrageous I didn’t believe her. “No way,” I said, “What are you talking about?” “Turn on the TV,” my mom replied. I missed class that day and spent the next 36 hours glued to every news source I could find, my sleepless heart breaking. I had lived in New York for a time. I had my own romance with the beautiful and majestic towers, as well as the friends and loved ones who were choked by dust, but thankfully uninjured otherwise. It is a day I can not forget.
Years later, a friend who was downtown when the towers collapsed recalled to me the billowing opaque clouds of dust choking the streets. As she coughed fitfully, she was thinking, “There were people in those buildings. There are people in this dust! I’m breathing dead people.”
There is an overwhelming temptation, almost a cultural pressure, to remember with sorrow and sentimentality the senseless acts of marauding violence perpetrated on the American people one decade ago today. But I urge you, while remembering our beloved lost (and the crippling blow struck against our republic), let us also remember Pearl Harbor.
Like 9/11, Pearl Harbor was another bloody ambush on American soil that acted as a terror wake-up call, whipping public opinion into a warring froth. Like 9/11, Pearl Harbor caught America seemingly unaware. In the aftermath, the public was filled with pain, rage and fear directed at a clearly defined and alien enemy.
The violence and terror we experienced on September 11th, 2011, and December 7th 1941, the horror and heartbreak, these are moments of suffering we Americans have in common with fellow human beings living in other war torn parts of the world. In South America, Africa, Arabia, India, and China – all the way around the globe back to the U.S.A – violence and terror are happening to our human brethren every day. People are coming home from a day of blood, bullets and rubble, only to find that their family have disappeared, claimed by war, and the house is empty.
Because of the suffering we felt when we were struck on our own soil, we are more capable of feeling compassion toward the suffering of others. This I feel is the only good we can cull from such disaster. I hope the suffering we’ve felt hardens our resolve to seek compassion for our fellow sufferers, rather than create more suffering through retaliation with arms.
Just like Pearl Harbor, it has been established that our leaders knew the 9/11 attack was coming and waited for it to happen. Unlike Pearl Harbor, we didn’t have to wait decades for secreted files to be declassified. With Internet, the questionable circumstances of the 9/11 attack were brought to the fore with remarkable speed. When we remember Pearl Harbor and 9/11, bear in mind that the events have unsettling commonality. In light of that knowledge, I suffer more, under my recurrent, fleeting frustration with the system. I wish more than ever that it had never happened.
No matter how or why 9/11 and Pearl Harbor happened, thousands of real life human beings were blown up, burned, maimed and pulverized to dust. The men and women lost at Pearl Harbor and 9/11 left behind them a long trailing wake of broken hearts in the friends and family who survived them. We have great suffering in common with the rest of the world’s war ravaged people. With that suffering, we are now challenged to grow beyond it, to find any common ground. By our tragedy we are challenged to glean anything at all which may help humanity evolve beyond the impulse to destroy each other and create more suffering. Compassion is a key to unlocking that circular trap of suffering met with aggression. The legacy of these tragedies must be compassion.