Reflections on September 11, 2001

by David Perkins

WTCThis year, more than any in my life, the December holiday season has caused me to think hard about the meaning of what we celebrate, and how we celebrate it. The joy of this particular season is tempered by the profound sense of grief we feel for those who were lost on September 11th, and for those they left behind. None of us was untouched. As Americans, as citizens of the world, as members of the human family we could not be untouched.

Whether you look forward to and cherish the traditions of the holidays we observe at this time of year; Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Ramadan – (insert your holiday here) – or whether you dread them as an over-commercialized, stress-inducing, anxiety-provoking inconvenience, this season should make us all take special notice of how we observe our chosen rituals and with whom.

If you’re lucky enough to be with your family for the holidays, as trying as that is for some, take a moment to realize what a gift that is and see them in the light of that realization. They may not get on your nerves nearly as much. I have a hard time keeping my hands off my son these days. Just remembering that life can change dramatically, and forever, in a heartbeat makes me want to touch him as often as I can. For the same reasons, I feel a compelling need to let all of those I know and love, all of you, know how important you are to me.

Most of you are close family or dear and trusted friends. Some of you are respected colleagues, and present and former co-workers. A few of you are people I don’t really know but have decided to stalk. A lot of you have blurred the lines and occupy more than one of these categories, refusing to be compartmentalized and screwing up the nifty little filing system in my Palm Pilot. I won’t name names but you know who you are. A few of you are relatively new to my sphere, and I to yours, so you may actually be more than a little creeped out by the idea of receiving a written declaration of love from a near stranger. I can live with that. You certainly won’t be the first to be creeped out by something I’ve done.

The important thing, to me, that all of you share in common is your impact on my life. You have all, in one way or another, had some influence on the course of my life and, by extension, on the course of my family’s life. In some ways you have even impacted each other, because the relationship I have with each of you affects the way I relate to all of you. You have taught me. You have given me counsel. You have comforted me. You have raised my spirits. You have surprised me. You have confounded me. And yes, you have really pissed me off. You have loved me when it was easy to do and you’ve loved me when I was unlovable. Some of you have loved me enough to tell me when I was full of it. Some of you simply tolerate me for reasons unknown, and others of you haven’t yet decided if you even want to know me. But with all that – you have enriched my existence and every one of you is an important and welcome part of my life. My life is better for knowing each of you.

Most of you who have known me for some time know that I am not a great believer in an omniscient deity. Maybe it’s a character flaw or just poor upbringing. But I do believe in the common human spirit; the connection we all have to one another and the importance of it in our lives, and the power that it can have. You only have to look around at the events of the past couple of months to see it. It shows itself most visibly in times of terrible tragedy, but it is at work on a smaller scale in our daily lives. It’s what nourishes us. It’s what sustains us. I believe it’s what compels us to congregate in times of great joy or great sadness; our need for contact with one another. I know that all of you know this. I just wanted you to know that YOU are the ones who sustain ME.

I am not a resolver (not a word, according to my spell checker). I don’t do “new year’s resolutions.” But this year, I may. I’m going to try to accomplish a few things in the future that I haven’t given much thought to in the past. If you’d like to join me, here’s my list – try to reconnect with someone you’ve lost contact with. Make amends to someone you may have wronged. Forgive someone who may have wronged you. Your circle of family and friends is the most valuable thing you have. There aren’t many good reasons to allow someone to drift from it.

The next time you find yourself face to face with a man wearing a turban or a woman in a hijab, tell them that you’re glad they’re here and that you know it’s not their fault. Their pain and outrage as Americans and human beings is no less than ours, but it is compounded by fear and the unfair burden of guilt by association.

If you are one who is given to prayer, the next time you are praying for you and yours and for the victims in New York and Pennsylvania and The Pentagon, and their families and friends, and for our men and women in uniform who will spend Christmas in a strange and dangerous place – include a few words for the victims of mindless violence wherever it may be happening; Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel, Gaza, The West Bank, Lebanon, Northern Ireland …. when mothers and fathers die, it doesn’t matter to their children that they were policemen, or firemen, or soldiers, heroes or terrorists. Wherever they are, whatever their circumstances, widows and orphans are grief-stricken and afraid through no fault of their own.

And finally, should any of you mention this maudlin dispatch to me, face to face, I will have no choice but to place blame on some crafty, subversive hacker hell-bent on world peace or clean water, or some equally ludicrous cause.

I wish for all of you the holiday, the coming new year, and the world that you wish for yourselves. I thank you for being a part of mine.

David Perkins
December 2001

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