Another year has come and gone bringing us back to 9/11, “A day to remember”, as it has been called. The rest of the year we try to forget, because we are good at that. Forgetting is a defense mechanism just like our ability to clot blood. We cut ourselves and through a natural process are allowed to heal and to forget the pain of the puncture or cut and put it behind us. That is unless someone pulls off the scab and we are quickly reminded of what took place. Remembering 9/11 is pulling off the scab on a dreadful day in American history, a day that many claim defined a generation. It seems like those “defining moments” are more often than not, terrible incidents that are based on and filled with hate.
My grandfather’s generation was defined by the sinking of the Lusitania that resulted in America’s involvement in WWI. My father’s generation relates back to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the Holocaust, and my generation looks back on the assassinations of the Kennedy’s and Martin Luther King as moments that frame a societal picture. The year 2001 was not only remembered as that transition to a new millennium, but was punctuated by those planes that crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. We all seem to know someone who was touched by these horrific acts of terrorism. One of my students, Chris Carstanjen, harmlessly boarded a plane in Boston en route to a long awaited vacation in California. His life ended when that same plane crashed into the second tower. His friends and family will never forget that day and do not have the luxury of simply pulling off the scab on the anniversary of the event. That beautiful restaurant – Windows on the World, sat atop the Twin Towers and a full team of front and back of the house innocent workers were going about their normal prep for a busy lunch, just like we all do on a daily basis, when hell came knocking. A piece of every person’s soul who works in the restaurant business was lost at that moment. Yes, today we remember that moment.
Chris Carstanjen – In our thoughts
We all know where we were and what we were doing when the first and then the second plane hit. I was in a meeting when an assistant interrupted our discussion to say that a plane had crashed into the first tower. We wondered briefly if it was a small private plane or maybe one of those commuter jets that lost an engine or had a dramatic pilot event in flight. We went back to our discussion. When she interrupted a few moments later to say that a second plane had crashed into Tower Two, we felt the shock of realization – this was intentional. What occurred in the hours after, at least for me, was a sense of panic, fear for my family and country, disbelief, high anxiety, and a total lack of knowing what to do. This was a moment to remember, a moment to define a generation, and I was at a loss. Of course, I immediately tried to contact all of my family members and close friends, just as everyone else in the country was doing. We would figure this out and get through it and eventually forget – at least for most of the year.
Reflecting back, I wonder now about all of those people throughout the world who don’t have the luxury of a healing wound and the ability to forget. For them, the horror continues each and every day as hate continues to fester and grow among people. It is hate that is the enemy of society, hate that brings people to commit horrific acts time and time again, hate that creates these “defining moments” that we are suppose to forget. How do we fight hate? Can you fight hate or is fight the fuel that feeds the engine of hate?
“Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.”
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., Christmas sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, 1957
When I work in and with establishments that suffer from team angst and witness the disturbing actions and beliefs that people have about others, I am aware of how these small acts of mistrust and eventually hate, can grow into a virus that learns to grow out of control. Is this where it all begins? I don’t get it, maybe I am naïve, but I find it very easy to like most people until their hateful actions become contagious. When this happens it is like a bad apple in a bushel of fresh picked Macintosh, the rot begins to spread. I enjoy walking down the street, smiling at others and saying hello. This is how a civilized people interact. I don’t care who or what you are, I just think that acknowledging people as individually worthwhile is easy and painless. Why is it that so many people can’t accept that and face each day with a desire to be kind, accepting, and thoughtful?
I saw incredible photos yesterday of thousands of people fleeing cities in Syria. The conditions, the fear and despair on their faces was heart wrenching. These people do not have the luxury of forgetting. They hold their family members close and leave everything behind in search of that ability to forget, but they can’t.
I am reading a wonderfully composed book entitled: “All the Light we Cannot See.” It is another portrayal of life in Europe during WWII. It may be fiction, but it is based on the reality of what took place in France, Germany, England, Austria and the rest of the continent. The characters in this book did not have the luxury of forgetting.
Maybe, just maybe, as important as we feel our jobs are in the restaurant business, it is simply a mechanism for all of us: staff and guests, to forget the hate that continues to spiral out of control within our country and throughout the world.
In recent years, things seem to be continually getting worse, and the tragedies of “defining moments” seem to happen much more frequently. Every day the scabs form and soon afterward someone picks them off, reminding us of the pain. Mass shootings, battles between police and communities, gang violence, countries looking to accumulate territories that are not their own, grotesque beheadings and acts of genocide, those who fight against acceptance of others who are different than them; it seems where ever you look there is festering hate. It is getting much more difficult to put on our “forget” hats.
America has always been a strong country filled with noble people willing to fight for freedom, and for what is right. It seemed for many generations that we could clearly identify the enemy that must be fought to protect others and ourselves. There seemed to be opportunities to win over evil and allow the scab to form and the cut to heal. But, how do you fight the enemy when the enemy is hate that starts on a small scale and grows to that uncontrollable virus? My father, I am sure like many of yours, fought in a war. He felt proud to defend what was right, but never shared those moments in his life when the battles took place. Those battles were not just the physical combat, but I am sure the battle in his conscience as well. He never talked about it because he wanted to forget. Talking would only serve to pull off the scab and bring back the pain.
Today, there are too many scabs, too many exposed cuts, too much hate. This begins with your interactions on the street, in the home, and at the office. It seems to me that the only long-term solution is to begin there. If we allow hate to exist in our every day interactions, then we are, in some way, contributing to the big problem. We can’t fight hate with hate.
Yes, horrific actions sometimes require immediate, and even aggressive action. When things are out of control, it does become necessary to respond and put a stop to the madness. But, these actions, in the long run will never stop future acts of horrific terror from taking place.
On this September 11, we should allow those cuts to be exposed, feel the pain of this momentous event in history, remember the tragic loss of life, and keep those victims and their families in our thoughts. At the same time, go for a walk, smile at people you pass and say hello. Shake a co-workers hand and give them a nod, put aside your political, religious, and societal differences and see the person in front of you as important and equal.
NEVER FORGET – BE THE AGENT OF CHANGE
Harvest America Ventures, LLC