It’s a cloudy day here in Upstate New York this September 11, 2014. It is quite unlike the pristinely sunny day thirteen years ago that so changed our world. On that day I remember a brilliant blue sky and a sense of calm that has not been felt since those planes veered off course and into history.
For me personally, it has been a long, winding journey. A couple of years after the attacks I actually found myself going to Afghanistan. Like so many Americans, I wanted to do something to help so that some good could come of the madness. I wanted to believe that the tragedy of those attacks could lead to a better world as we took care of the bad guys and helped the victims in places like Afghanistan. Along with so many others, I wanted to believe that this latest intervention by the good guys could turn things around and make everything all right once more. The reality, seen through the lens of more than a decade is that the world is infinitely more complex than we had imagined in those innocent days before 9/11. Yet it is still a world in which humanity and its attendant virtues are the most important assets as we move forward. We need to be connected and we need to remember that not everyone who is different from us is bad. And we need to keep talking to one another.
Truth is that sometimes people talk at one another, not to one another. This is especially true of governments as the politics of the world play out. Agendas and goals often differ greatly between the victors and the victims, or the developed and the developing. Difference often creates insurmountable challenges. There was often difference between what the US and its agents planned in Afghanistan and what the people of that weary country wanted or hoped for. Our good intentions did not always translate well. The well intentioned work of the intervening internationals often went unappreciated by locals whose daily lives were still filled with quiet despair and unrequited fear. Modern electricity and roads could not really take the place of healing and direction for a society that had been almost destroyed with continual wars and invasions. Perseverance in helping the Afghans help themselves was possibly an even more important task that physical reconstruction. Thankfully, there were people who did that.
Thanks to those efforts, a large percentage of the Afghan people were affected positively by such virtues as respect and kindness, as well as the willingness to listen by many internationals to walk a mile in the other guy’s shoes. It also worked in the reverse. Over and over again I saw that when people who were very different tried reaching out using those strategies, something magical almost always happened. I even experienced that magic myself on many occasions, and even today, I find that people do not completely believe me when I tell them of those times.
So, perhaps the best way to commemorate the brave people who first showed us what such caring was on that bright September morning is to keep putting our humanity before our fear and to believe in the magic of reaching out to one another despite our differences or the depravity around us. Even now, it is still our best hope.