I just returned from a hectic three days in New York with my wife, daughter and son-in-law. When I tell people that, the first question they ask is, “Did you see any shows?” My answer is, “yes, but the highlight of the weekend wasn’t the shows or the restaurants; it was the 9-11 memorial museum. IT IS NOT TO BE MISSED. It, alone, is sufficient reason to travel to the Big Apple. Why? Because we can’t afford to forget. It’s strange, 9-11 was only 15 years ago, but my mind keeps trying to file it back far earlier than that. I suspect it’s a defense mechanism; one that enables human beings to forget painful experiences of either a physical or emotional nature by mitigating their impact. It’s stridently illustrated by the saying that, “If it wasn’t for bad memory, most women would only have one child.” It’s no different for catastrophic events, but recall we must, because we need to learn from the past.
Walking through the expansive space dedicated to 9-11 only further reinforced that fact. I couldn’t help but emotionally react to the photographs of firefighters and police heeding emergency calls, and then losing their lives in the course of carrying out their duties. Nor could I help but respond to the twisted metal girders that were left as reminders of the blazing heat that caused the steel to twist and turn and eventually snap.
My feelings were raw when I heard a recorded message of a passenger on the plane that later crashed in Pennsylvania. He said, “I’m in the air, but the plane has been hijacked. Things don’t look good. I don’t know what will happen, but I hope to see you soon.” My thought was, I could have been sitting in his seat, helpless, knowing, inside, that I’d never see my family again, and hopefully having the courage to participate in storming the flight cabin in order to possibly take possession of the plane.
I was equally struck by the descriptions obtained from survivors, of bodies falling from air and hitting the ground with a thud. They were people, who, when trapped 100 stories in the air, chose to fling themselves to the ground in order to escape or to hasten the eventuality of their demise. The numbers, alone, were overwhelming: Three thousand people dead, and an estimated 40,000 more injured.
My visit caused me to relive what I originally saw on television 15 years ago. Originally, I thought, it’s just a scene from a movie. Then, the second plane arrived, and I could no longer deceive myself. It was the act of terrorists, whose goal it was to attack the United States, to destroy lives, to make a statement regarding their beliefs and to demonstrate the effort and sacrifice they were willing to make to achieve their goals. The sadness is how successful they were.
The later death of Osama Bin Laden pales as a victory over this tragedy. It hardly repays the pain and suffering experienced by the victims that died, let alone the fact that every one of them had a mother, a father, siblings, spouses, children and friends whose lives never would be the same as a result of that heinous act. For me, it was the Holocaust all over again.
But, despite the sadness and pain it elicits, we need to make ourselves acutely aware that people can behave in matters that are far less human, compassionate or caring than animals far lower on the Phylogenic Scale. It makes you wonder – if the smarter you are, the more skilled you become at hurting, destroying and maligning the lives of others. When you look at our own Civil War, World Wars I and II and what’s presently going on in the Middle East, you realize that. But, you needn’t go that far, all you need do is listen to the nightly news and you’ll hear of needless killings between gang members, or by angry spouses and jilted lovers.
If that isn’t sufficient, because it’s too removed from you, look at some of your own behaviors and own the way many of you compassionate, kind, good people treat one another in the course of your interpersonal relations. It may not be physical, but the emotional pain that many of you inflict on one another is equally unacceptable and unwarranted. Most of it resulting from $100 reactions to $10 problems. The truth is, there is ugliness in the world, and all too many of you sit idly by saying nothing, doing nothing and achieving nothing. What happened to the saying, “That all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for enough good people to do nothing?”
Think about it, women, men and children are being slaughtered, while politicians caucus regarding what is the right thing to do – not morally, but financially and politically, without any compassion or emotion. It doesn’t matter which ethnic group you belong to, religious belief you ascribe to, or what color skin you have. This crazy world can affect you in a negative manner and, all the while, the masses will say and do nothing. They might attend religious services, pray and listen to moral lessons, but afterwards they’ll leave in their cars, forgetting the lessons they were supposed to learn and race to be the first ones out of the parking lot without regard for the motorists around them.
You may say, “What’s happened to you, Ed Reitman? You went to New York and returned with a dark view of the world.” Yes, I have. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy my vacation, but I am very worried about this world, the people in it and the future we may be facing. And, if in any way I’ve contributed to you being worried as well, I will have achieved what I set out to do; i.e. to cause you to open your eyes and heart to what’s happening around you. Not in order to complain, but to encourage you to be a little kinder to everyone you come in contact with. I want to provoke you to recognize that, although you can’t directly change the world by altering the way you deal with others, you can affect their lives in a positive fashion, and, hopefully similar to a pebble thrown in a lake, it will cause ripples that will not only touch the person you were kind to, but their family, spouses and friends, and possibly cause them to emulate your behavior. The world needs that.