The Meaning of Life
16 September 2001
Boston — September 11th will go down in the history of our country for the horrific events that took place on that day. Like December 7th and April 19th, it will be a day that will change the future in ways we do not yet know. Some things we do know. It was a day that brought our country together. It was a day of extraordinary unselfishness. A day when we as individuals thought about the needs of others and not our own. It was a day in which Americans can take great pride.
We all can be thankful that our nation's greatest city had a mayor of equal stature. Rudy Giuliani's compassionate presence during the crisis will endear him to Americans forever. New York City firefighters, public servants, ran into the buildings from which thousands of people were fleeing with regard only for the safety of others. New York City's police, firefighters, clergy, and average citizens sacrificed their lives to save lives. It was a day that I, a boy born and bred in Boston, said with tears in my eyes, "I love New York."
At my workplace and across America, workers crowded around television sets, watching the events of the day unfold. The horror got progressively worse. The horror was met with restraint. The mood was somber. Shock and anger yielded to thoughts of loved ones, the meaning of life. I work in an office tower in Boston. We were sent home early. Long lines at elevators, mass transit, and parking garages were met with calm. My children spent the day at school, their administrations believing correctly that they were safe. I walked to my son's school to meet him. It seemed inappropriate to drive. I was pleased to learn that the school officials left it for parents to explain the day's events to our children. I needed to hug my son and daughter. I needed to hug my wife.
My kids asked good questions. Their ability to grasp the situation surprised me. Kids understand what it is like to feel anger and frustration and to lash out at the people you think have hurt you. They understand that there is power in anger. They understand that it is wrong to act in such a way. Kids know that if you do something bad you will and should be punished. Kids know how to forgive and not hold a grudge. Kids would much rather love than hate. They don't like themselves when they're mad or when they hate. I have never known a kid who wouldn't trade the power in anger for the satisfaction of love. Kids know that one side has to stop fighting or the fight will go on forever. If only adults knew what kids know.
Many Americans had trouble sleeping. Restlessness came not from a sense of insecurity and physical vulnerability but from a profound sense of sadness for all of those who lost loved ones. The next day Americans did not hide in their homes. We came to work in droves. Americans should not and will not use the horrific events of September 11th to allow limits to be put on our civil liberties and freedom. We are a people continually dependent upon more freedom, not less.
Power doesn't conquer all; love does. The idea that we must sacrifice life to save life or to avenge the loss of life must stop. Force begets force. Love begets love. The compassion generated by the events of September 11th is much stronger than the hate that began the day. The Middle East can explode in hate or it can give in to love and compassion. The hijackers had the courage to sacrifice their lives but they took much more than they gave. My hope is that the overwhelming compassion expressed by Americans will be a catalyst for all people to have the courage to stop hating and start loving, and to give more than they take. The American people have led. It is up to all individuals and nations to follow.
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