I was in my cubicle, in the Fairfax County Government Center, 30 miles from the Pentagon. I was hard at work on the FY 2003 budget for my agency, the Division of Solid Waste, Collection and Recycling. Then came news of the first attack. Only nobody knew it was an attack when the first plane hit. Only after the second came, did that become clear. The director was out of the office so somebody turned on the TV in his office (there for viewing Board of Supervisor meetings, etc., not for soaps). I wandered in and out, while others spent much time in there. Then came news of the other hijacked plane, heading for a destination unknown, but in the DC area. I went back to work; the budget had a deadline and it was my job. Then came the blast at the Pentagon. Right where my wife of nearly 21 years would have been working had she got the promotion she bitterly resented not getting a few years before. She worked with many of the people in the section that took the brunt of the damage. The man who got the job she missed, died in the attack. Karma is unfathomable. It seemed at the time, when she lost out on the job, that she got screwed. In the end, it turns out she had other tasks to accomplish–a mission still to unfold. We credit our Buddhist practice for the result.
For a brief time the events of 9/11 forged a more compassionate, a more cooperative spirit among Americans. The honeymoon lasted only a short while. Given a broad mandate to retaliate and to impose draconian security measures in an attempt to protect the nation, George W. Bush made the lasting impressions on our country. We endure ever more intrusive inspections in order to be permitted to fly. Thousands of patriotic young men and women quickly volunteered for military service. Many of them have died and others continue to die in a ten-year old war in Afghanistan–initiated to locate and kill Osama Bin Laden, which wound up taking almost all of those years. It didn’t help that resources were diverted to also fight in Iraq, a handy way to take attention away from the fact that Bin Laden could not be found. If enemy number 1 could not be dealt with, at least we could rid the world of another evil man. Then there was the pretext of weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist. All of which also cost many American lives and many American dollars–which, along with across the board tax cuts (especially for the ultra-wealthy), have major responsibility for our present financial straits. So, while Bin Laden succeeded in killing several thousand people in those attacks 10 years ago, his and George W’s legacy has had a much more serious, long-lasting and continuing legacy than either could have imagined at the time.
More than ever, we all need to remember the sacrifices of those who died on 9/11 and as a result of the aftermath. More than that, we need to rekindle the compassion and cooperation that briefly enveloped America. While I may (rightly, I believe) point fingers at Bush, that won’t make life in America any better for me or anyone else. What is needed is tolerance and understanding. Tolerance of those whose religion, whose culture, whose values differ from our own. Understanding that the security of the nation lies not in more onerous invasions of privacy but in more openness to alternatives in religion and politics. For myself, praying every day for the peace and security of the land, as Nichiren Daishonin admonished 750 years ago, in a letter to the regent of Japan.