Every recession feels like the end of the world to those hurt by it. Sometimes the best thing a struggling society can do is to remember how it was able to get through a worse crisis. I came across this long-forgotten email (Thank you, Google Desktop!) In September 2001, I wrote this to two hundred friends around the world:
"On Tuesday morning 9/11/2001 I watched in horror out of my window at the Marriott Tyson's Corner, as a huge cloud of black smoke rose over the Pentagon in front of me. After watching hours of CNN, I wrote this email to the Board of my non-profit:
"FIRST STAR, some thoughts...
Indeed we will go ahead and have our Board meeting, and our three other meetings after that. And we will do so stubbornly, with resolve, with renewed dedication to what we hold dear and with absolute determination to push forward with our whole vital First Star agenda. Because these recent atrocities reaffirm our belief that the margin between evil and good is thin indeed. That the line between civilization and chaos is fragile. That we every one of us have to pick up our civilization and carry it forward on our backs if necessary. That we must choose to be part of our social solutions lest we add to our challenges and problems. We have no middle choice; we either nurture our civilization, or like every other natural system, by the immutable laws of physics it will decay into chaos.
We are privileged to work for all our children in First Star, children whose needs are the apex, the summit, the quintessence of all that we prize and seek to nurture. Because kids are our future. They are our aspiration and our motivation to improve this civilization. They represent hope itself.
We shall not fail them.
I wrote that, then drove to the First Star board meeting in Downtown DC, which began on time and was focused, sad, stubbornly productive and for me hugely moving. Since then I have driven across the United States in an Avis rental car from Washington DC to Los Angeles.... 2660 miles in 41 hours, sharing the driving with Richard Hull and Tyler Spring, and I am now back with my family. I opened my email to see that I had received 191 messages since Tuesday morning. So forgive this reply en masse to at least say thank you and that we are all safe.
These have been remarkable days. Days of Awe. I have seen hundreds of thousands of American flags, maybe millions, hanging from houses, tractors, truck stops, offices and a hayrick between Roanoke, Knoxville, Little Rock, Oklahoma City, Amarillo, Albuquerque, Flagstaff, Barstow and San Bernardino. Every one of them at half mast. I saw a young girl all on her own waving a tiny home-made flag from an overpass in Arizona and all the cars and trucks sounded their horns and we saluted her and us and this country and its terrible but awakening tragedy.
And I spoke to friends, family and colleagues all around the world from my cell phone. I learned that on our film set in the village of Northleach in Gloucestershire, England, cast and crew stood shoulder to shoulder with extras and villagers for the European three minute silence and that you could hear a pin drop. And that people cried. And that in London at the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace they replaced God Save the Queen with The Star Spangled Banner. And the Queen cried and the Europeans thanked God their American cousins would now be part of the solution to a scourge they have lived with for years.
And I spoke to a friend who has lost friends in the Pentagon and to those dealing with expanding pools of grief from the New York murders.... two degrees of devastation; you either know a victim or someone else who does. And I heard in my Washington conversations already the Phoenix-like rising of that American genius, the resilience, the moral leadership, the stubborn fix-it-ness, the coming together of the world's greatest quarrelsome family yet again in face of common adversity. I found again over the cell-phone the absolute, stubborn American certainty that we shall overcome, the vital belief in our ability to change, to steer, to improve and to reach lofty goals that brought me to America twenty six years ago because I loved it and needed to be a part of it.
And I remembered Winston Churchill after Pearl Harbor: "Silly people -- and there were many, not only in enemy countries -- discounted the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. Their democracy and system of recurrent elections would paralyze their war effort. They would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe. That now we should see the weakness of this numerous but remote, wealthy, and talkative people. But I had studied the American Civil War, fought to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before -- that the United States is like "a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate." Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful".
And in the Avis car in the dead of night on Interstate 40, I realized that Churchill was right. Here paradoxically amid carnage and devastation there was dignity, resolve, power and determination. Barely two days after the attacks, this Thursday lunchtime, Sherry Quirk, Debbie Sams and I of First Star sat with Rep. Loretta Sanchez in her Congressional office on legislation to better help abused and neglected children. Rep. Sanchez did not cancel the meeting. Our focus was on concrete ways to help kids, not on the devastation. With that steely-eyed American resolve, those fighting to improve a civilization do not flinch from the forces of chaos; they just push forward harder. And in a million ways like this, the outcomes of tragedy will be positive: out of the ashes of the World Trade Center will eventually come a better America and a better world. The sleeping giant has woken up.
Love to all.
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