Archive for September, 2010

Letter From New York, September 25, 2010

September 25, 2010

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Letter From New York

September 23, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

Fall is in the air; the leaves have begun changing on the trees that overhang my creek and litter my land.  Soon they will begin to fall and will literally litter my drive, unattended they are daunting and so weekends will begin to be devoted to clearing them away.  I both love and hate the fall.  I embrace the brisk wind and the wild tension between the encroaching winter and the summer that wants to linger, a autumnal ballet of seasonal forces, a lovely, painful dance as the world sinks into winter.

As that dance progresses, the world has been watching the tiny island of Manhattan for two events that occurred there, one following the other.  The first was glamorous – the all important, celebrity studded Fashion Week; the rich, the beautiful, the fashionistas, the models, the mavens all squirreled in and through the tents at Lincoln Center, all sponsored by Mercedes Benz.  The city could barely sustain the excitement of all this elegance, luxury and excitement; every morning the city woke to yet another display of fashion fabulousity.

The second event was the General Session of the United Nations.  World leaders gathered; Obama addressed the General Assembly, hoping to elicit the support of others in the world to buoy up the Mid-East Peace Process.  Every leader comes with an agenda, a shift they would like to see the world take in the way it sees their efforts on the world stage.  Thursday, President Ahmadinejad of Iran, took the podium and used his time to decry the United Nations, the United States, capitalism, Zionists, laud the wonders of nuclear power and declare that the majority of Americans think that 9/11 was orchestrated by the U.S. government.

Delegates from many nations walked out on him.  It was, as the United States spokesperson said:  predictable.  Ahmadinejad has used his annual trips to the UN General Assembly to further distance himself and his country from the rest of the world.  The scariest part of this scenario is that this man runs a country with an army, a pretty big army that has been testing missiles that seem to go farther each time they test them.  The saddest part of all of this is that the Presidency of Iran held by someone more rational could wield a huge influence for good in that desperate part of the world.  Iran is using its influence to stir up anti-Israel feelings all over the world and plays its hand on the world stage with a fistful of wild cards.  No wonder he makes the West crazy.  He hates the West.  Likes our toys, like nuclear power, but doesn’t like what we stand for…

Also in that part of the world is poor Pakistan, ravaged by floods, [have you donated anything to help Pakistan?] being torn apart by religious and political strife, the secular being clawed at by religious fundamentalists with a virtual civil war going on in the north west.  And, oh yes, they have a stockpile of nuclear weapons and they rattle that saber once in awhile.

When I think about these things, I feel great disquiet.  No wonder the fabulousity of Fashion Week is so attractive to so many – it diverts us from the fearsome realities that are just across town as the UN General Session met with frightening men like Ahmadinejad standing up there with all the other world leaders, completely free to rant against the organization hosting him and reminding us that he is running a country that is quite capable of the worst kind of mischief.

There is another Iran, the one that doesn’t want him and who marched in the streets in the spring but we saw what happened to them.  Who will ever forget the pictures of the young girl bleeding to death on the street, an event twittered around the globe.

It is fall, the season that precedes the long winter, a time when the mind roams to all the things that could go bump in the night.  And right now I hear a bump.

Letter From New York, September 17, 2010

September 17, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

On the anniversary of 9/11 I found myself at a baby shower, thrown by two of the conductors of the trains I ride for two of the passengers. Sixty people were there, forty-five of them from the train community. We laughed, we played games, had a couple of glasses of wine, watched the mothers receive gifts and visited among ourselves. The somber background of the day was not forgotten. On the radio in the morning there was the backdrop of the reading of the names, the remembrance of the gloriously, sweet, beautiful day that was 9/11/2001, a day that could not have been more beautiful, a day that was in perfect juxtaposition to the horror of the day.

At the party, people talked of it, the anniversary. Many commented that there were an unusual number of social events planned for the day. Several at the baby shower had more than one invitation to a social event and there was speculation that many people were holding special events that day because they wanted to leap over the pain of that day, to begin to imprint upon their brains some happier memories – and yet all felt a little a guilty about doing something pleasurable on 9/11. It is a somber day, a holy day in some ways, a day that may remain with us for always as a secular Good Friday, a day in which we will remember the terror that changed our world, forever.

And, at the same time, people are struggling to have life go on in this new reality, which includes terror and tension, fear and fright. Because on September 11, babies are born and folks pass from this earth, love needs to be celebrated and we have to come to terms with the great pain of 9/11 and the reality that the world continues on. Perhaps that’s why this year, more than in years past, there were parties on 9/11, because people are beginning to integrate the reality, the horror of 9/11 into the calendar of their lives.

It was the following day that I felt the spirit, the ethos of 9/11 more than I did on the day itself. I had to return to the city from the cottage early so that I could help with video coverage of a march organized by Religious Freedom USA. Founded by two young men, one a rabbinical student and the other an evangelical Christian, it has devoted itself to fighting intolerance of religious groups in America and right now their focus is on Muslims because they are the group receiving the brunt of intolerance right now.

The day started with speeches at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, around the corner from the proposed Cordoba Center, buildings united, said the pastor of St. Peter’s, by the fact that both were damaged by debris from the same plane hitting the World Trade Center. Josh Stanton, the Jewish half of the founding team, recalled the story told him by his still living grandmother who, as a child, found herself huddled in her home with her parents as a mob surged through the streets of lower Manhattan, ranting as they went, torches in hand, that it was time to kill the Jews.

He was organizing because he did not want a surging mob in the streets calling for the killing of Muslims. At the end of the speeches, there was a mile long march through the streets of lower Manhattan, through the rain, past places in the process of rebuilding, rebuilding from that terrible day that has shifted history. Walking with them brought all of that day back to me and brought back all the weeks following and all the horror, standing on a friend’s rooftop, staring down into the still smoking pit, a miasma of broken buildings and lives, smoldering weeks later, still spewing death.

But out of that horror, out of that smoldering cauldron, the resultant mix should not be hate and bigotry. We should have learned something from our mistake of putting Japanese Americans in camps during WWII, that not all members of a group are the same. My mother told me of our family attempting to downplay our German background during World War I [and II?] because of fear that people would think we were one with the ones we were fighting. Let us look at our history and learn from the mistakes made and do our best not to repeat them.

Letter From New York September 8, 2010

September 9, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

Saturday will be September 11th, the ninth anniversary of 9/11, a day that will not be forgotten by anyone sentient that day and this side of paradise. We, as a country, are indelibly marked by the events of that day.

A friend asked me what I thought I had learned from 9/11. How had the world changed? Were there any good things that had come of this?

Good, I wondered. Good? What good things could have come from that day?

I find myself staggered, still, by the acts of loving kindness I saw between people that day. There were two African American women who took an elderly Jewish man under their wing and commandeered the universe to see that he got where he was going. There was a bus driver who just did his best to keep everyone moving, moving away from Ground Zero. There was a woman who spoke Connecticut lockjaw but who took her time to take a man, not from her social class, under her wing and see that he got where he was going.

New York changed with 9/11. Already on its way to being a better city, it has become a much better city. The ranting for which New York was so well known has subdued. It began with the need for quiet following 9/11, when any loud noise sent tremors of fear through those who heard it.

One of my favorite stories following 9/11 was that of one of the trade unions here in New York. The man who had the coffee cart at the corner near their office was Muslim. Realizing he might be an object of vindictive behavior by fellow New Yorkers, the union set up guards to make sure he was not harassed, not troubled, not hurt. I weep when I tell that story.

What’s been positive about this?
For one, I know I need to understand and pay attention to one of the great religions of the world. Islam. Incredibly complicated and incredibly nuanced. Just like Christianity. I am beginning to learn the differences between Shia and Sunni and Sufi. The folks who are building the reviled Cordoba Center are apparently Sufis, who are reviled by Osama Bin Laden. Which demonstrates that Islam is not a united front. And if Osama Bin Laden reviles them, should we?

General Petraeus recently asked the group down in Florida that is planning on holding a Quran burning party not to do it because it will endanger troops. I yield to the Commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan. If he tells me to stand down, I think I would. We need to think about the implications of actions. And to learn that is a good thing.

What I have learned has grown from the pain and suffering of 9/11, from breathing in the acrid smoky air of the city that day and the days that followed, from walking through streets, litter filled with debris blowing up from Ground Zero, from walking shell shocked through the empty, quiet streets of the busiest city in America. I was there. I walked it. I breathed that air. I smelt death in the streets; no amount of washing the sewers could completely cleanse that smell from where I was, two blocks north of the evacuation zone.

We have entered into a brutal age and unless we become clear about whom exactly we are fighting it will become an even more brutal age and that is not what we need. The Crusaders brought blind brutality to the Holy Land and we are still paying the price of that. What 9/11 has taught me is to acknowledge the huge work that needs to be done if we, the human race, are going to survive, to live in peace. And that is, at best, a distant golden goal when facing some who look to the past and not the future. To acknowledge that, to face that squarely, is a positive thing.

Letter From New York September 3, 2010

September 3, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

On Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk, plunging through the mountainous amounts of email that had collected while I had taken a few days off. I was attempting to decipher from a long string of messages whether or not we were about to send a team to Nigeria. Then a new email popped in from a colleague: Have you seen this?

It was a link to a breaking story posted by the Washington Post. A gunman had gone into Discovery Communications, potentially with explosives strapped to his chest, and had taken hostages. I immediately felt shocked. Once upon a time, I worked for Discovery and still have many, many friends there both from when I worked there and ones made in years when I was producing some programs for various of their networks. I am on the Board of CINE and my friend Rita Mullin, the current President, works for TLC, a Discovery Network. I know someone on every floor in that building, I would guess.

What I did next surprised me. I immediately left the Washington Post site and went to Twitter, put Discovery in the search bar and started scanning the posts, and long before it was announced on any news organization I had found out the gunman’s name was James Lee, that he had posted a rambling, bizarre, disturbing manifesto online about his grievances with Discovery and their programming. He, for example, wanted no more celebration of births on Discovery Health [soon to be the Oprah Winfrey Network] because children were, I think he said, vermin that consumed the earth. I found a picture of him entering the building, taken by a Discovery employee who sent it to another employee, who then tweeted it.

I found links to the video feed from the helicopter flying over the building. There were poignant messages from friends of people in the building wishing them well and saying prayers for them. I looked for tweets from people I knew but found none. I knew from Twitter that people had gotten out of the building safely before it was on the general news sites. Heck, I knew a lot about what was going on before I got my first email alert from CNN.

I learned, rather quickly, that the hostages were taken in the lobby area. That particularly engaged me and I became incredibly concerned. There is a wonderful woman named Rosa who mans the front desk in the lobby of Discovery. She is a magnificent human being who is the perfect first person for a visitor to meet. She is warm, she is respectful, she is organized and she is engaging. I have visited there for years and when I arrive she jumps up and comes out from behind her desk and gives me the biggest mama hug I get in my life these days.

The thought she might be a hostage caused me great distress. When I heard the hostages had been taken in the lobby, I thought of Rosa. A well of tears came to my eyes and I sat at my desk and prayed, prayed for all of them but particularly prayed for my Rosa, the woman who always makes me feel more than special when I arrive at Discovery. She doesn’t hug everyone who comes there. I have followed dignitaries into the Discovery lobby. I got hugged; they didn’t. I have been with important people who found themselves thinking I must be important because of the way Rosa greeted me.

To think she was a hostage tormented me. I rested when I found out that the hostages were all men, enormously relieved Rosa was not one of them. I breathed more freely when I found out, through Twitter, that the building had been successfully evacuated, that the children in the Day Care Center were safe at McDonald’s. I was grateful when it ended. Though it ended with the death of James Lee, a tormented soul who wanted to save the planet, a good thing, but who chose a desperately sick way of doing it.