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Let the (Re)Building Begin

I went to bed last night thinking about what I wanted to write here this morning.

I awoke to the tumultuous news that Osama Bin Ladin was killed in a firefight with US forces in Abbotabad, a city north of Islamabad, Pakistan.

Out went my well-laid plans.

You see, this is very personal for me.

In what I can only describe as ‘another life’, I was working in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. I was part of the Combatting Terrorism policy organization in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

The Policy organization had been undergoing restructuring as a result of the change in Administration nine months earlier. My specific job was leading a newly formed policy group of military officers and civilians responsible for military preparation for and response to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and high-yield explosive events.

When the attacks on our nation began, there was no time for panic or incredulity. We had work to do. Things went from early morning calm to controlled warp speed in the blink of an eye.

We were just wrapping up a terse meeting about the attacks when the plane hit the Pentagon. I will never forget how violently the building shook, the sound akin to a roaring freight train, or the wall of approaching black, acrid smoke.

I remember clearly thinking ‘I’ve survived. A plane has hit the Pentagon and I’m alive.’

It is only in recent months that I have finally written about that morning, that moment.

I have yet to write about the dark hours and days that followed. They are still too personal, too raw, and I will not do so here.

Suffice it to say that we were thrown into working around-the-clock. Eventually I would learn that the wheel of the plane’s nose came to rest only 30 feet from where our meeting had convened.

I lost two former colleagues that day. Two of the nicest, sharpest, hardest-working, most-dedicated individuals I was privileged to have worked with. I remember them often, and especially on a day like today.

I can clearly see their smiling faces, often calling out greetings while passing in the halls, sometimes stopping to catch up on news and career developments. A last conversation over a salad bar at lunchtime. That is how I choose to remember them.

Make no mistake, I knew this day would come. I do not shrink from it, or lament it.

There is no joy in Osama Bin Ladin’s death. Any sense of relief is fleeting, at best. I cannot speak to justice or retribution. Instead, I am filled with incredible sadness at what this man and his followers have wrought: destruction, pain, terror. There will be no celebrating. I will be remembering those horrible moments in the Pentagon, and all that followed.

I will remember all of the victims, and their families and friends. I will honor those who gave their lives, wittingly and not. I will recall the acts of bravery, heroism and quiet courage. I will be thinking of all of my former colleagues, appreciating their support and service to others. I will be praying for our military forces. And I will be praying for the other victims that have been injured or killed as a result of the two wars that have followed.

I will be spending the day in quiet contemplation and prayer, asking that we all collectively work to rebuild the damage done. Build bridges and connections. Forge newer, stronger bonds. Celebrate our common humanity, and our respective religious beliefs.

I will also be doing some building of my own. I have hinted before that I am working on a bold (for me) new project. I am pouring my time, effort and sweat into starting this up, and I look forward to sharing it with you in a couple weeks.

Today, working on this project will bring me solace and strength. On a day such as today, building something positive fills me with hope.

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