He was the office hothead. He often took it to laughable lengths. One incident in particular produced a permanent image in my mind.
It was a small, struggling company, and it was hard to start an advancement program. It was a technological company with no formal training and development. So I proposed to management a series of lunchtime training sessions organized by employees. We would bring our lunches to a conference room once a week and take turns teaching each other from books we bought together.
Eventually, management began showing some enthusiasm. They offered to buy our next set of books. They began buying lunch for those participating. That's where my hotheaded friend came in. "Pizza!" he said in disgust. "Every damn week, Pizza! If they don't give us something different, I'm not coming anymore."
It was emblematic of his always-on-edge personality. Glass half shattered.
So when I showed up for work that day and was greeted by an especially sour welcome, it made me laugh. "You watch television this morning?" he asked. Nope. Then, shouting: "What the HELL is wrong with you?"
Then my smile was replaced by horror. Someone had rescued a training television from some training room. A tall building was burning. People were dying as we watched.
Future generations who watch replays of television coverage of September 11 destruction will never know how it really was to experience it for the first time.
The phone rang a few hours later, and my daughter, in college just outside Washington DC wept with me. "How could anyone be so cruel?" she asked softly.
It was hard to imagine what sort of individual could inflict the deadly choice on strangers, targeting those guilty of no more than a commute to work. Should they die in the fiery furnace that had, moments before, been a workplace, or leap into a half-mile long fall? One woman was seen walking out onto a jutting beam, balancing, then blessing herself, stretching her arms and walking off into the void. Rescuers working on the ground below are haunted to this day by the memory of periodic small explosions, the sound of men and women colliding with cement.
President Bush was an understandable mystery during most of that first day. Criticism of him for "hiding" was part of misdirected panic. Of course the government, and its primary leader, had to be brought to safety. Days and months later, I was never more proud of my President than when he told Americans that Islam was not the enemy. He helped subdue the lazy sort of hatred that puts collective hatred on the innocent. It was subdued but restive.
My daughter called later in the week with news of the second wave. Like the backwash of a tsunami, hatred was striking again. This time, Muslims, Sikhs, pretty much anyone whom some ignorant mind might associate with Islam, or Arabs, or just a generalized "those people" had become targets of hatred. It went from rudeness to occasional violence. Friends she had mourned with as they wept for loved ones who died at the Pentagon now were afraid to walk the streets of Washington.
The hatred is still with us. Shows of unity, demonstrations by Americans that all faiths stand together against evil, are opposed by those for whom the American ideal is less about rights and freedom than it is about us versus them, where "they" are defined as those who are different. We are not a Christian nation by ideology or government privilege, but Christians are a majority of believers. For now, hatred still lives in those for whom the Christian faith is less about following Jesus than it is about membership in an exclusive tribe.
It is eleven years later. I still mourn, I believe I always will, for those we have lost, who suffered so horribly as they died.
I mourn as well for the reaction to those vicious attacks, a response by so many fellow Americans that has set back the ideals of the country I have always loved, and the desecration by so many of the faith that has become central to my life, a desecration by Christians of Christianity.
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Other than the horror itself of that day, I take away something from a slightly different perspective though. I take away some hope for this greatest of all nations. It was after such a horrific attack that we all put politics and religion aside for a while. We came together, all of us, as Americans. We reached out and helped each other through our loss and grieving, especially those most directly affected. It was a time when most people appealed to their better angels and we were stronger and more unified as an American people in the truest sense of the title accordingly. My only regret is that it took something so evil to bring us all together. I wish we could all come together again as we did in the weeks and months following September 11, 2001. I pray that it won’t take another event of sheer evil to bring that about though.
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