“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Virgil
I recently walked the perimeter of the memorial installations of the World Trade Center. My hand tracing the names of the thousands of people who lost their lives in the horror and destruction that has come to define this day. Inside the memorial are hundreds of thousands of gallons of running water sliding down the large perimeter of the walls, just below the names of those who perished and then all that water falls into the dark cavernous receptacle in the center of the whole. The sound of the water, the endless recycled tears of loss is so loud that the city traffic is muffled.
Still now, my most vivid memories of the day of 9/11 were not of the images of destruction, but of the phone calls of love that people made in their last moments of life. All that was important to them in their last moments was to reach out and communicate their love for their partners, their children and their families. The love was all they had to say. “Please always remember how much I love you.” This was the phrase that filled the airwaves out of the planes and in the towers before they fell. There were no calls for revenge among the victims, their trauma and fear of their impending death dissolved into love, it was the only message that the victims wanted to leave behind.
As I walked around these sacred holes, now running continuously with water to cleanse our collective grief, I was remembering the recorded calls and the stories of love and loss that marked the time. But I also was thinking about how this true loss of love and life so quickly became overshadowed by the trillion dollar war that never turned up any Weapons of Mass Destruction, but only served to waste trillions of dollars of resources, take countless more lives and totally destabilize entire regions of the world. As the water tumbled down the deep cavern to nowhere I was reminded of how we attacked just days after the event. Like the rest of the world, 9/11 made us realize that our safety was not absolute as we had always taken for granted.
Instead of listening to the calls of love, we set a course on terror and revenge with our top national priority of homeland security. No one could foresee the shocking costs that this direction would exact from us. The sticker shock of our revenge wars, has just about bankrupted us. Although the National Priorities Project puts the cost at upwards of $1.23 Trillion, the actual indirect costs including long term veterans benefits is at least $6 Trillion. We have drained our treasury, our future and our children’s futures in the name of security. Every community in the nation is currently struggling to fund and staff their local schools and community emergency services. Are we actually more secure while funding military operations around the world when we cannot create enough work and maintain our infrastructure at home?
We sacrificed not only our financial security for this direction, but also much of what we treasure most, our personal freedoms. Benjamin Franklin aptly predicted this situation when he said, “Those who give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” The Patriot Act following 9/11 was the beginning of our willingness to relinquish our precious civil liberties and accept racial profiling as a way of life. Freedom is not free and you don’t buy it with wars. The real cost of freedom is exacted from the courage it requires to live with the insecurity that is inherent in a free world.
The only antidote to fear and the terror which has come to define living in the world is love. It is at the precious seed of our humanity and the source of our true genius. Imagine for a moment if we had invested those trillions of dollars in waging a campaign of love and peace. Would ISOL be the organization it is today if we had given them schools, gardens and systems of hygiene? Destruction begets destruction and we have more blood on our hands in the name of innocent victims than most places in the world. We have witnessed this kind of loving leadership in the past- both Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi stand as beacons of light today after employing military strategies, tactics and discipline to building a peaceful movement of justice. Their greatest strength was the truth. The soldiers of this war believed in and were willing to give up their lives in the name of this truth: that we all have a right to live free, happy and equally.
Walking around the 9/11 memorial some 15 years later, what I hear calling out from this memorial is louder than the huge shadow of destruction- it is in memory of all the innocent who died and asked to be remembered for their love.
What can we do today to turn towards love. It is the only real security, the only way to save ourselves and this beautiful blue planet.