THE VigilanceVoice

Nov. 7, Wednesday - Ground Zero plus 57


         Terrorism's most insidious germ is complacency.  It eats at the memory of the horror, disabling the mind's tension, its wariness to be on guard.  It turns the nightmare into a fuzzy memory, as though it never happened.
          I feel it creeping over me.   Fifty-seven days later, it seems a century ago I was standing at Ground Zero, watching bodies jumping from the Twin Towers, hearing the awful crumbling of the world's tallest buildings, sensing the madness of what we all thought might be the end of the world as we knew it when the ground erupted and the buildings crumbled into a holocaust of death and destruction.   Seventeen acres were destroyed--and thousands of lives lost in a senseless act--yet each day the tension of terrorism seems to relax a little more, the muscles of its horror atrophy, drawing me away from the memory, making me want to forget it happened so I can go on with my life not stuck in the past, not frozen in horror.
          I wonder if terrorism feeds on that feeling of complacency?   I wonder if the desire to forget the tragedy and move on, leaves me open to the shock and horror of the next attack?    What better way to get the enemy to drop his or her guard than to attack and disappear, making the enemy tire of looking out on the horizon waiting for something to happen that doesn't happen.  Then, frustration sets in.  Disappointment and discouragement start to gnaw at the tension until one stops straining his or her eyes into the shadows, stops seeing the enemy on every corner, stops clenching his or her fist in anger, resentment, anticipation.
          I realize life must go on.   We cannot live in the past.   But, I also know the future holds more terrorism, of all different sizes and shapes, issued perhaps by different faces from different countries, but its purpose is the same--to terrorize our children.   To gain power over us.   To weaken our resolve to fight it.
        But this complacency is insidious indeed.   It seems to suck out of the marrow the desire to be ready, on our toes, prepared to fight.   Our minds want to move on, to bury the body of horror in the gaping pit of the World Trade Center, erect a memorial and then chalk it up as a memory--a terrible one--that we stuff back in the corner of our minds as we did Pearl Harbor, or the Oklahoma City bombings.
        But it comes back.   It haunts us in many different ways.  And, its worst of all haunting is that sense of slippage--that sense we are losing the fierce, angry memory of being attacked.   Nearly two months later all our bombs and bullets have not found their mark.    The alleged head of the terrorist attack still lives and walks and talks and broadcasts victory speeches about why we are "evil," and we continue to let the feeling ebb from our minds.  We continue to relax and move onward into whatever state of normalcy exists.
         I understand that.   One cannot live in the past.   We are intuitively drawn to live life despite horror.  Yet I am concerned about living in the nightmare--my concern is preparing to battle terrorism's next attack.    I am concerned the Parents of Vigilance may relax their grip on the need for Vigilance because the sun shines, and the birds sing, and Thanksgiving and Christmas approach--holidays of joy and happiness, opposites of fear and intimidation.
         Complacency.   I wonder where it will take us?   Will it lull us into a state of relaxation from which terrorism will rise again?
         I wonder.

Tuesday, Nov. 6--Ground Zero Plus 56
When the Parents Of Terrorists Cry Out, The War Will End

            In thirty days plus one, we will remember Pearl Harbor.  Unfortunately, it will be a comparison between the disaster of September 11 and that of December 7, 1941 when the Japanese launched their surprise attack on the American naval fleet.
          We will study the critical differences between that attack on America and the most recent one.  There will be one major difference: in the case of Pearl Harbor, we declared war officially, however, it wasn't a unanimous vote.   There was one single dissent.   A Congresswoman from Montana, Jeannette Rankin, voted her opposition to war. She was the single, dissenting vote.   Her vote to not go to war was not a vote against the United States, or against the need to protect America from foreign enemies.  It was a vote from the Parents Of Vigilance--a symbol to the world that at least one Voice was against "war" as a solution to hatred and violence.   Some call her a pacifist.  Others call her a woman of Courage, Conviction and Action.
         In thirty days plus one, we will revisit Pearl Harbor Day.  We will look at the differences between that attack on our military, and the attack on our innocent civilian population sixty years later.   We will ask ourselves:  "What has changed?"
          Back then, we rounded up all the Japanese and placed them in "detention camps."   We guarded our borders, fearful of an attack that never came.   There were reports the Japanese sent balloons over the Aleutian Islands up near Alaska laden with bombs, but that was as close as we got to an infiltration of our soil by the "enemy."
         The terror of war, however, raced through the veins of our nation.   Young and old marched down to join in the fight.   We had an enemy who was stationary--with a face, a name, a homeland that we could attack and conquer.  And we did.
        This war, however, has an enemy with no face, no homeland, no ability to conquer with one bomb.   This enemy we fight today is faceless, nameless, lives in the shadows of fear and intimidation and complacency.   
        Even though we have placed a face to the enemy--bin Laden--many wonder if he might be just a front for a group of nefarious "others" who use him as terrorism's poster boy.   These "others" hide in the darkness, planning, promoting, strategizing all the moves.   So, when we finally "kill" our poster boy, or capture him and hang or shoot him, the "others" will still be lurking in the shadows.   They will employ another "poster boy" when the time is right, enjoying the sanctuary of anonymity.  
          The source of their motivation will not change.  As long as they can strike fear and intimidation into the souls and minds of a people with acts of random terror, they can use anyone to symbolize their "war on America."   But, if we, the Parents of Vigilance, make a stand against these "others," then we have a chance to use fear and intimidation and complacency on them.   For bullies fear the proud, courageous, the convicted, the ones who take action.   They fear we will stand up to them as Parents, not as warriors.  They fear we will rally the support of their wives and children against them with our dignity and pride rather than bullets and bombs.
          Terrorists use violence to recruit new terrorists.  The more we kill and maim the terrorists, the more we make them into martyrs.   The more we create "revenge" in the hearts of their followers, their children.   But, the more we stand up to them as Parents of Vigilance, the more we show the children and parents of the terrorists we will not cower to their threats as citizens, family members, the more we weaken the terrorists' superstructure--fear. 
         I wondered why we did not have that one single Voice in our Congress standing stoutly against the war on terrorism as Ms. Rankin did six decades ago?   I wonder if the major difference between the war we are waging today and the one we declared sixty years ago is that one Voice in the wilderness who shouted out to the world that Americans are not all in favor of bombs and bullets and body count to resolve differences between nations? 
        If there is one difference today from then, it is the need for Parents of Vigilance to vote against the war on terrorism, and instead cast their vote for peace.   When the Parents of Vigilance vote, they will vote to stop the killing of the innocent.   And, if that vote rings loud enough, the Parents Of The Terrorists and their children will be the ones who will stop the war--not bombs and bullets.


Monday, Nov. 5--Ground Zero Plus 55
Ashes Of Angels Create Tears Of Passion

            The other evening I went down to Ground Zero and cried.   They weren’t sad tears; they were tears stimulated by the Ashes of Angels. 
           “Don’t your eyes hurt?”  I asked my wife.
            I looked around.   I was the only one with tears streaming down my face.  People were looking at me, a 265-pound mass of a six-foot four-inch guy wearing a black armband with the word Semper Vigilantes, the date of 09-11-01 stitched on it, bearing the American Flag and the words inscribed under it—“United, In Death & Life!”

            The tears streaked my face, rolling out of my eyes uncontrollably.
             The ash in the air was irritating; everything seemed blurred.   I had to be careful not to bowl over anyone in my path, for sometimes I have been told I resemble an oil tanker walking down the sidewalk, and am always fearful I might step on someone’s small, furry dog and have to live with that disaster.
             When I was at Ground Zero on September 11, everything was ash.  The air, the sky, the ground.  I don't remember crying then.  Perhaps, I blanked out the tears.  But on this particular night, I felt like the Angels of the Ashes were talking to me.  As I sniffed and wiped at my eyes, I could hear the whispering of their Voices:
            “We’re here, Cliff…in this big, ugly gaping hole of twisted metal.   Our spirits are alive in this mangled mess of destruction.  We will never leave.  We will ever stop our Vigilance on behalf of the children.  Believe in us.  We believe in you, and all the others who cried for us that day…and who believe in us today.”
           Earlier,  my wife Lori and I walked along the solemn wall of banners and letters hanging on the fences to keep people away from Ground Zero clean-up crews.  People from around the world had sent their tributes and memorials to all those who perished that day.   I was taken by the letters from children, especially from war-torn countries that we, Americans, find hard to pronounce, and even harder to imagine their location on a map.
            Their hearts poured out messages of love and care and compassion, stirring in me the realization that Americans as alleged “leaders of democracy,” owe the world their passion of purpose.   We export many things to many countries, but the passion of our people is something we have kept in our pockets for far too long.
            As I read the words and studied the world's concern for us, I thought how we must export the Pledge Of Vigilance to the Parents of the World.   I believe America’s strength should be exhibited not only by its military, political, or economic power, but also, and fundamentally, by our Parent Power.
            If we truly are the “great nation” which sets standards of freedom and democracy for the world to model, then the greatest standard we can cement in a world endangered by Terrorism is the rallying of our parents to support principles of Vigilance .  What greater gift, I thought, could we lay at another's doorstep than our passion as a parent, concerned not only for our children, but for theirs as well.  And that such a gift came not in the form of money we gave in aid, but through a Pledge we made to all the children--a personal rather than political, social, economic or religious commitment.
            I wondered if the Angels Of The Ashes were bringing tears to me, not so I would weep in memory of a sad and horrible senseless destruction of lives-- but to weep tears of passion for what needed yet to be done.  I wondered if Angels Of The Ashes were reminding me that all parents on earth have one mission—to leave it a little bit better for their children, and their children’s children.  And, only if America and the world passionately took the battle of Terrorism to the parent level, would we and our children ever be free of its threat?
           Then I wondered if was crying for the Parents of  Complacently—those parents who either do nothing to defend terrorism in their children, or turn that responsibility over to the government, the schools, the religious leaders.  I wondered how many parents in America, when tucking their child into bed, thought about the terrors of fear, intimidation and complacency that might be waiting to come to life in the child's dreams?   I wondered if the parent who didn't take a moment to talk to his or her child about the importance of courage, conviction and action, might be leaving the child vulnerable to the Terrorism of the Night?
            After we walked around, we made our way to the subway.   The ashes seemed to thicken as we walked down the stairs and waited for the train.  Tears began to fall heavily from my eyes as we boarded the Six Train uptown toward  the East Village where we live.  I was clutching a bar to keep my balance and looked down at a little boy who was staring up at me.  He had those saucer-shaped big brown eyes that swallowed you in their wonder.  
            “Are you sad?” the boy fearlessly asked.
            I knelt down and smiled, wiping at my tears.  “No, I’m very happy you’re not afraid.”  I said.  "These are tears of joy."
            “I’m not afraid,” the boy announced calmly, looking up at his father who was holding his hand.  “My daddy’s with me.”


 Nov. 4--Ground Zero Plus 54
The Terror Of Empty Souls & Their 5,000 Fans

      Every other Saturday, I go to Bellevue Hospital and speak to lost, terrorized souls.  The ward I go to is filled with men and women whose eyes gaze into the nothingness of their lives--a psychological ward for people seeking to find something more valuable to them than death.    They come and go each week, grabbing a few days of respite from the terror of life on the streets of New York, or huddled in a closet in their apartment afraid to answer the door, or ultimately just "sick and tired of being sick and tired."
      I hold the meeting from 4p.m. until 5p.m. on Saturday afternoon.   I get the patient's attention because just following the meeting they receive their "meds," drugs to keep them stable, on some level of human contact.   Sometimes there are those hidden amongst the thorizine glazes who appear cogent, perhaps receptive to the message that life can be worth living, that there is hope in the mass destruction of emotional terrorism they have chosen to live within.
      Today, I told them how I had walked down to Ground Zero the night before and sensed the solemn spirits of those who died so we could live.    I told them how walking down Broadway in Lower Manhattan was more stirring to me than walking along the Vietnam Wall Memorial in Washington, D.C.    The difference was that those who died at the World Trade Center were innocents...average people going about their day on September 11 without weapons in their hands, or a mission to "kill or be killed" as my comrades whose names on The Wall were charged to do.
       In war, we warriors expect to die.   We offer our lives in battle as the highest honor we can give our nation.    But at the World Trade Center not one of the five-thousand plus who died had expected to die that day.   That was the difference for me.
      I told my friends in the 20 South Ward of Bellevue that I had chosen to fight terrorism "within" long ago.   I shared with them that the terror from "within" we suffer as human beings is like piloting our own terrorist plane into our own World Trade Center.    I told them that as I stood last night and looked into the gaping pit of twisted metal, strings of smoke from the bowels of fires still burning in the marrow of the wound, I could feel the spirits of hope rather than dismay rising up into the night's sky.    I told them I saw the beauty of people dying for a cause, sacrificing themselves for me, rather than a horrible pit of ugliness and senselessness.
      "I elect to see the deaths of so many filled with purpose rather than tragedy," I said.  "I see them as Sentinels of Vigilance, teaching me not to cower in the face of my fears, or become downtrodden by my own intimidation, or to resign myself into useless complacency about the value of life," I said.   Then I added that when I feel fear, I summon from the Sentinels of Vigilance the gift they left in the gaping wound of mass destruction--I call that gift Courage to face my fears.   I told them when I feel intimidated that I'm not as good as, as strong as, as experienced as, as worthy to speak out on issues as others may appear to be, that I call upon the Sentinels of Vigilance for the Conviction necessary to make my fingers type words, my mouth to speak, my commitment to not waver.    Finally, I told them that I had lived in the cocoon of Complacency for many years.    I told them, like they, I thought there was no hope for me.   But then, I was told to take Action.   And if I took Action and attempted to achieve goals, that the attempt was the Victory.
      Finally, I told them that as I was standing in the quiet solemn of the night at Ground Zero, the smell of the burning, decaying waste filling the air, I felt proud and fortunate to know the Sentinels of Vigilance were there to give me Courage, Conviction and fuel for Action.
      "My greatest Action I take is day," I said, "is when someone asks me how I am, I say--I'm Alive!"
      I told them that when people looked at me and smiled as I replied, "I'm Alive," they may not realize that I was telling the world that I have chosen to live life rather than turn my head to its hope and opportunity.    I told them they should do two things to help them find hope.
     One, they should walk down to the World Trade Center site and stand and listen for the Voices of the Sentinels of Vigilance.   If they listen past the tragedy and horror and waste of human lives--if they go with their heads held high and eyes to the sky--if they go to look for wisdom and strength, they will hear the Sentinels tell them that "life is worth living."
     Secondly, I suggested that when they were asked, "How are you?" they reply, "I'm Alive."  And when they said those words, to think and try and believe the Sentinels of Vigilance were saying them with them--reminding them that they--the Sentinels--died so we could live without terror in our hearts or souls.   If they could see the Sentinels of Vigilance in the words:  "I'm Alive," they would know they never had to be alone fighting their inner terror again.  And, if they continued to be vigilant, they could fight the terrorists within with newfound, Courage, Conviction and Action.
     When I left, a young twenty-year-old patient came up to me and said.  "Even my parents didn't know the pain in my soul.    But you know it's there.  Maybe I can find a way out of hell."
     "You can," I replied.  "You have five-thousand fans rooting for you."


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