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September 11, 2006

9/11@ 5 years on - We Remember

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Castle Philosophotrix Kat, who's having, well, let's just say life is interesting at the moment, sends this along:

Dear John,

(I've always wanted to type that just once)

I've stolen a few minutes on my cousin's computer in the early morning hours to write a note to you and my friends at the Castle. Would it be too much of an imposition to ask you to post this at the Castle? At your convenience of course, space and time permitting.

First, I miss everyone and hope they are all doing well. I really miss those introspective conversations, heated "discussions" and raucous commentary. I miss being a regular part of the community. I've also discovered what it's like to be part of the "other America", the one that doesn't have access to the information that I had when blogging on a regular basis; the one that knows little about the war and sacrifices even less on a daily basis. On one hand it's a strange relief. So often I spent hours looking at the information, trying to analyze, etc that I did not take time to do other things. One the other hand, I know as I watch the news and catch brief news articles or even participate with Soldiers Angels that I am missing a big chunk of information. I feel it like a hole in my thoughts and in my heart.

Having been part of the "military and support community" (all be it, the fringe element on the Internet) and now being part of the "other America", I know exactly why people feel so separated from it. The truth of the matter is, like that old song, the war is "over there". It's as if it is being conducted by another country in a place that doesn't effect us.

Sometimes, it's as if it is on a different planet. Watching the local news this past week, I've only seen war news once. Even the price of gas and the cost of living associated with it is barely recognizable as part of the "war". For the most part, people I talk to don't see it as part of the war. They see it in terms of profit made by oil companies, price gouging by big corporations and the inability or lack of desire by the government to provide safe guards for the working "poor" man. I won't waste space by explaining how wrong it is. I really just wanted to point out what it's like to be on this side of the divide. I don't mean those who "support the war" or those that don't. I mean, those who know something more about the war than 2 minute sound bites and those that don't.

It's an old argument really and I don't know why I bring it up except that I feel it more acutely while outside of our community at the Castle and on the war blogs. At least, while blogging, I had some idea that there were some people who cared enough to know, whether they were supporters or not. Out here, it's a little lonely.

The anniversary of September 11 is about to be upon us and, as is often the case, fate weaves it's mysterious threads. Without blogging to take up my spare time, I have taken up my old hobby of marathon reading just about any subject that takes my fancy (TV being what it is). The last two weeks I've read twelve books on forensic and behavioral science used to solve crimes. Six of these twelve books mentions the work done by these folks either at ground zero or in the "War on Terror". I didn't select these books for that reason. It is, as I mentioned, fate or coincidence. Either way, as the anniversary approaches, I was reminded once again that, for all the books, websites, movies and commentaries, we still cannot comprehend in any meaningful way, the cost, the sacrifice and the pain that was inflicted by those evil acts on that one day.

While we may remember the grand heroics of the officers, fire fighters and certain individuals, like Rick Rescorla, during the attacks, the bravery of the Flight 93 passengers or the determined efforts of rescue and iron workers in the days, weeks and months after, the difference between good and evil was made plain by the smallest among us and the least recognized.

It was made even more plain to me on Thursday, September 7, when the new video of bin Laden and the hi-jackers was released.

The difference between good and evil? Evil sat and planned how they could maim and destroy, drinking tea, recording their "last wills", saying good-bye and "good luck" to friends and compatriots. They cared not for the destruction and death they were about to inflict. They saw it as their duty and divine (can evil be divine?) responsibility. Good came after and, even in the face of such horror that it is still hard to describe even today, gave their lives, their physical and mental health to help the wounded, dying and dead; to provide succor, relief or simply the sense of "knowing" the fate of their family members to the survivors. Evil came on one day and it's fingers reached far and wide into our lives and very fabric of our society. Yet, the good still work today, volunteering their time, like the forensic scientists, who are still working on identifying some 4000 remains from the WTC.

I read a book by Emily Craig, a forensic anthropologists, Teasing Secrets From the Dead. I will not give details as to the processes of identifying the dead or her observations on days following 9/11 as they may still be too disturbing for some to read, but, I wanted to point out a brief example in the difference between Good and Evil, the true understanding of duty and divine responsibility by mentioning her part in 9/11. She was part of DMORT, a major disaster mortuary and forensics response team put together after the Oklahoma bombing. As part of the team, she would be tasked for two weeks to assist in the search and identification of remains at the site. Instead, she stayed for four weeks, went home for two weeks when her father died of cancer and then returned for another extended stay.

Even in the face of her own grief, she went back because, as she stated, she at least had seen her father, held him and had her time to say good-bye. That could not be said for many of the family members of this terrible crime. She saw this as her duty and, yes, even her divine responsibility.

Even in her own story is the story of others, those that she met and worked with who had the grim privilege of retrieving and identifying friends, family and co-workers. How they all had to become their own support network in their grief. There were the Red Cross workers who, two months later at 9pm on a cold and rainy Thanks Giving day, while most of us were home enjoying the warmth and company of friends and family, manned the relief and cantine tent, sitting around little heaters to stay warm waiting to serve the volunteers still at the site or working at the morgue to identify remains, warmed over turkey dinners as they straggled in between shifts and on dinner breaks.

In another book by Roger Depue, retired Chief of the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI, appropriately titled, "Between Good and Evil", the author explores his journey into the very depths of evil, tracing, finding and even interviewing "true evil" like Ted Bundy and other serial killers. He describes the effect of this work on his own ideas and conscience as well as those he worked with. He talks about how the effects of abuse and neglect on the young can lead the conditions that create a serial killer. Yet, he finds that, while you can trace the acts that created the condition, the final act of evil cannot be "understood" because, in the end, regardless of the reasons, it is the choice of the perpetrator to commit an act of evil. To know the reasons why, but deny the ability to choose between good and evil is to deny our very existence as beings with free will able to discern right and wrong. In the end, this is the very epitome of the differences between those who seem to "excuse" 9/11 on the grounds of past or present policy or acts of the United States and those who see it in it's starkest terms: Evil with no viable excuse for the act.

The difference between good and evil was made even more stark by the story about how even the youngest and smallest among us can know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil and decide to give something that none of the hi-jackers or their terrorist backers could really ever understand: the real gift of life and love.

A psychiatrist friend of Roger Depue had volunteered as one of the many counselors who went to help the victims and surviving family member of the September 11 tragedy. A young woman approached him because she did not know what to do. Her sister was a house keeper for the Marriott Hotel at WTC 7. She was a single mom and had taken her daughter to work with her early that morning because school did not start for a few more hours and she had no morning child care (or could not afford it). As we know, when the towers fell, WTC 7 was destroyed. The mother of the child was killed instantly, but the seven year old survived with critical (soon to be fatal) injuries.

As the sole surviving family member, the young woman who approached the counselor had been asked to give consent to harvest the little girl's organs when she died. The family was catholic and worse yet, the young woman felt, with the grief of losing her sister and the oncoming loss of her niece she could not make such a decision.

In the book, Roger continued the story:

"Alone in the world, she felt she had no one to turn to for advice. But she soon came to realize that there was in fact one option, albeit a very difficult one, available to her. She went to the pediatric intensive care unit, and, as gently as she could, explained the situation to her niece.

'So, would you like to do that, Maria?' the woman asked. 'Would you like another child to have your heart after you're gone?'

And the little girl, six hours before she died of her injuries, gave her reply.

'Yes,' she said. 'You can give them my heart.'"

As time passes, on the anniversary of 9/11, it may be harder to remember the specifics. The faces of the victims may fade and the tears of their families and friends fall in solitary silence. The feelings of solidarity and purpose as a nation may have passed. We may debate endlessly who was at fault and why or our actions since then. We will say "never forget", but it is not our anger that we should never forget, nor our sorrow. We should never forget that on that day, the greatest lesson of man's existence in this world as a being of free will was given: the difference between choosing good and choosing evil.

Thank you, John, for the time and (hopefully) the space. Tell everyone hello and I look forward to rejoining our community in the future.

God Bless the families, our troops and the United States of America.

Yours,
Kat


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