On September 11, 2001, I was on board the last plane that landed in Washington Dulles Airport. The emotions stirred from that fateful day caused me to write the brief commentary reprinted below, which found its way onto the Internet and circled virally around the globe, launching my writing career and opening unexpected and magical new avenues for my life.
This holiday, as so many stockings seem to be stuffed with fear and uncertainty, it is my wish that each of us may open ourselves to the possibility of a new, grand future, rich with fulfillment. Whatever "ruts" we may be in are mostly of our own making. What we can dream we can achieve.
a two-by-four from GOD
september 12, 2001
All the world is a stage, and we are merely players. With the horrific and all-consuming events of the last few days, it has never been more undeniably evident that as players, we do all indeed share the same stage. I am not a professional writer or commentator. These words are merely the offering of a minor player on this grand stage.
I was one of more than a million passengers in the air when tragedy struck, landing in Washington DC just as a plane attacked the Pentagon. Chaos ensued, the airport became a military camp, a few frightened people ran past me - in the direction of anywhere. For me, that morning began a three day pilgrimage from Washington back to my family and home. There was time to reach out to loved ones, to rage, to mourn and to reflect. There seemed no shortage of time.
Along the way, I came upon a lonely stretch of road in the Blueridge mountains. On the radio was a suburban housewife from Ohio, who had decided to postpone the purchase of a new European automobile. "It just doesn't seem as important now. Our family just wants to go home." Perhaps it was her tone, the inflection in her voice, but it was evident that this woman was not merely a consumer concerned about the economy, exercising fiscal restraint. She seemed to be, for perhaps the first time in her adult life, content.
A bit unsettled, I couldn't help but sense I had experienced this feeling before.
Early in my career, I enjoyed many successes. But with greater responsibility and financial rewards came an increasing conflict between my career and family. My travel schedule had expanded to five, sometimes even six days a week. Then one day I had an epiphany, thanks to my two-year old daughter. I had returned late on a Friday night from yet another week of travel, too late to put my kids to bed. Saturday morning, my daughter woke up and ran to me in the kitchen, exclaiming "Daddy, Daddy, thanks for coming to visit!" My wife and I sat there dumbfounded, saying nothing. I called my employer that weekend and resigned.
Reflecting on this incident, I often refer to it as "a two-by-four from GOD," a moment so startling it was as if the hand of God himself reached down and smacked me on the head. Life has a way of settling into the incremental. We are rarely faced with life altering choices, but rather minor decisions to move slightly to the left, to the right, or perhaps more often to simply just plow ahead. That Saturday morning with my daughter, I realized I had just been given a great gift. The opportunity to stand back from all the elements that made up my everyday life, and ask myself - is this what I really want? Now, with three beautiful children and a fulfilling marriage, I could not be more grateful for the choices that resulted from the powerful, innocent wisdom of a child.
Today, America by many measures is the leading nation in the world, and yet we, too seem lost. With critical reflection, it is utterly amazing that as citizens we have perhaps the greatest opportunity of any people on earth to achieve self-actualization. Food, shelter and safety are enjoyed in the US at levels unimaginable to 90% of the world. But, with the opportunity to lead truly meaningful lives within our grasp, we instead become trapped in an endless loop of material one-ups-manship.
On September 11, 2001 America was horrified beyond words. Violated were our beliefs, our safety, the fundamentals of our way of life. And yet, in what is slowly becoming the aftermath of these dreadful events, I cannot help but feel that within the ashes of this destruction are hidden two extraordinary gifts.
The first is the gift of perspective. So disorienting were these events that each of us now must rethink our lives, our decisions and our direction. The lady in Ohio who suddenly realized the futility in her endless pursuit of material things. A newfound understanding that life is indeed a journey, not a destination. That family is important, and working more to afford luxuries for our children may have a price much higher than simply being there. That work is important, for it provides an excellent opportunity to contribute, to challenge ourselves and exercise our capacity to learn. That charitable endeavors are not just the right thing to do, but are requisites to our inclusion within a community.
That significance is more meaningful than success.
The second gift is the chance to rebuild. When all the rubble is lifted, the citizens of New York have the unique opportunity to rebuild in any way they choose. A memorial, parks, mixed use housing, perhaps even a more dramatic symbol of freedom and commerce than was originally built. No matter the outcome, the slate is clean. So too is the foundation of all of our lives. The world, each of our world's, will never be the same. How will we rebuild? In what ways will we change the very direction of our lives? On September 11, an evil outside of our control destroyed a part of us. Today, an opportunity within our control exists to rebuild our lives as we see fit.
The thousands who have died should be honored and remembered. But within our reach is the opportunity for tens of millions more to be reborn into more fulfilling and meaningful lives. Out of the loss of innocence and the forced realization that we are but a small part of global world, may come an appreciation of our great fortunes. Out of the haunting images, a chance for a new perspective. Out of the rubble, the chance to rebuild on a stronger foundation.
And out of death, the chance for all of us as players in this sometimes woeful, yet wondrous theater, the opportunity to no longer merely survive...
but to live.
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