13 Years Since 9/11–What it Means to Me

In 2008 and again in 2011, I posted commentaries on 9/11. It is time to do so again, adding a different perspective. At the outset, I offer my profound sympathies to those who lost friends and loved ones to the actions of Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist followers. Today it is ISIS or ISIL who would target America as well as people of Iraq and Syria. While death comes to us all, it is  disturbing when it comes unnaturally at the hands of another. From my Buddhist perspective, this is a function of karma–the effects one receives as a result of causes one has made. Calvinists might have a different perspective–predestination or what others call fate. It seems preferable to the minds of most, I suspect, to absolve the victims of any blame and place it squarely on the terrorists who commandeered the planes and flew them into their targets. Blame is undeniably correctly put on the terrorists but that is missing the point–they are the instrumentality of one’s karma. There are those people who rush to get onto a plane that turns out to have a mechanical problem that causes it to crash, killing all aboard. At the same time, others are delayed by traffic and miss the plane. Different than a terrorist plot? Yes, in terms of how it happens but not in result. 

Three times in four years I dodged death: In 1967, tossed from an overturning jeep in Vietnam I suffered only a scalp laceration and a concussion; in 1969, I instinctively executed a four-wheel drift (having had no training in such a maneuver) to avoid rear-ending a vehicle that had jumped unexpectedly in front of me in the predawn hours of a Kentucky expressway, at 60 mph long before airbags it would likely have been fatal; in 1970, I attempted suicide (using the wrong pills) and survived. Much later, upon informing my prospective father-in-law that I wanted to marry his daughter, I was threatened with death. Why did I survive all these events? Karma is unfathomable; it just is.

My wife was most disturbed–angry and frustrated, at being denied a promotion to a position at the Pentagon that coworkers were as surprised as she that another less-qualified person received. Several years later came the attack on the Pentagon in 2011. The section in which she would have been working had she got the job took a direct hit, killing several people–including the man who got the job she didn’t. From a Buddhist perspective, she received protection because she still had a mission to fulfill–or it was not her karma to die that day. I am most thankful that it was not. Together, we have a mission.