The VigilanceVoice

Tuesday-- May 7, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 238

One Day Closer To My Death
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, May 7--Today, I am one day closer to my death.  It is my birthday.  A day of Terror.  A day of Vigilance.
       I am a survivor of many things.  I survived war in which many around me, some standing only inches away, were blown to pieces.   I survived cancer.  I survived bankruptcy, foreclosure.  I survived a year of law school not too long ago.   I survived the battle of corporate life where I ruled a tiny kingdom of marketing that helped change the way the world's business systems operate.   I survived alcoholism which led me to pit of despair and forced me to put a gun into my mouth.  I survived the Terrorist attack at Ground Zero on Nine Eleven.
       I even survived an IRS field audit back when the IRS agent knocked on my door and boasted: "I'm here to put you in jail."  (Thank God he had made a mistake and mistook me for someone else.)
       Terrorism is part of life.   It comes and it goes.  We either learn how to counter it with Vigilance and Hope or we become its victim and wallow in its bottomless pit.
       For many years I lived in Southern California where the Terrorism of an earthquake ripping open gaping holes in the earth was an ever-present Nine Eleven alarm.   On one occasion I was on the top floor of the largest building in Orange County California and it began to literally swivel, its foundation grinding around on rollers designed to absorb the stress and shear of the earth moving.  It seemed to gyrate as though twirling a hula hoop.   An associate of mine dived under a desk and wailed as I just stood, looking out the glass windows,  fascinated by the feeling of helplessness, wondering if this was "it."
      Another brush with death happened when I was in a shark cage off La Jolla, California, taking underwater pictures of mad Mako sharks.  We had chummed the water with a gunnysack of dead fish to lure the "terror of the sea."   When it arrived, one-by-one we climbed into the small wire cage strapped to the edge of the 21-foot Boston Whaler to take pictures of its feeding habits. x  When it came my turn, the shark began to bash and batter atx the cage, its teeth glistening in the clear water, eyes bulging, glazed in a feeding frenzy. I held on for dear life with one hand and took pictures with my Nikonos with the other, fearful the cage might break loose of the boat and offer me up as an appetizer for my own personal "Jaws!"
      Then there was the time in Spain when, after one too many drinks, I climbed into a bullring and demanded a fighting bull be released so I could show how macho I was.   Bulls look smaller when you look down on them from the arena, but when you are standing in the middle of a dusty bullring and they charge at you--eyes aflame, the sharp tips of their horns angled just right to eviscerate your belly, their nostrils flared with an eager passion to wipe the silly gin-laced grin off your face--they become giant runaway locomotives.    I remember freezing in panic as I tried to sidestep the bull as he passed.  But I couldn't.   My right foot was planted on the bottom of the cape, trapping me from moving.  The bull hit me head-on, tossing me in the air as if I were some rag doll, a reminder me that it ate fools like me for breakfast.
      I was also Terrorized as a young man when I went on my first rock climbing expedition.  I was dangling 700 feet above ragged shale cliffs, my fingertips wedged into a small crevice.  I was working my way around Tahquitz Peak in Joshua National Park.  It was the first time I had climbed and I was trying to stuff my fear of the unknown.  I was belayed on either side by expert climbers who promised me they wouldn't let me die, and that if I did fall the worst was I would break a few bones.  It was a cold day and my fingertips were so numb I could not feel whether I had hold of the rock or not.   I froze halfway.  They urged me to move ahead--"you can do it, Cliff!  Come on.  Trust the rock."   I still recall my heart pounding as I slid my fingers along the tiny crevice, not knowing whether I was in contact with the rock. The numbness deadened any sense of grip.  Faith in their Voices moved me.  Finally, I reached the point where I could clutch hold of a scrubby branch and pull myself up to a ledge, safe  from the sheer drop.
        Once in Vietnam when I was pinned down and bullets spattered everywhere I wanted to test the John Wayne theory.   We were being ambushed and cut off from our main group.   I was face down in a furrow of dirt as a wall of lead zigged and zagged over my head, many of the rounds splattering mud in my face as they threatened closer and closer toward me.    I remember putting my steel helmet on the end of my rifle to see if I could draw their fire away from my head.  As I lifted it slowly up on the muzzle of my M-14 a few feet in front of me it was immediately shot and sent careening into the field.   Fear of being killed lying alone in a dirt furrow motivated me and I leapt up and made a mad dash, running serpentine, deciding to make it harder for them to hit a moving rather than stationery target.  I survived that too.
       These are some, certainly not all of my Terrorisms in life.   I won't go into the Terror of hiding deep at the foot of my bed at night as a young child when my mom and dad were screaming at each other and I could hear my step-father hitting my mother. On those nights I trembled, afraid he would come in and attack me or my sister.   Or, later in life when I was teenager after my father bloodied my mother's nose with his fist I ran down the stairs with a loaded rifle to shoot him, but at the last minute stopped because he was leaving the house to go to the bar to drink some more.
       For many, such as myself, Birthdays are "one day closer to your death" events. They are titled that way because when one looks back over his or her life, he or she sees both the Terror and the Joy of life in a composite of blacks and whites.  On the dark side of the frame, you see little to be proud about.  You believe you have choked the hope out of life and the only thing left is dim clouds of despair in the not-so-distant future.  You become Complacent about life, giving up your ability to dream, to act as though you had a bright future waiting on a silver platter of opportunity.
       But, there are clear and lucid moments of Vigilance that weave within the Terror of Time and make life worth living.  These are the "white sides" of the frame.  They represent the rainbows of joy.
       On my birthday, I try and shove the Terror of Age away from my eyes and see the many  rainbows that have been given to me.
      There was the marriage to my wife--a woman whom I chose to be the mother of my children--my highest accolade for any woman.  I wanted what I didn't have--a happy family full of friendship and love.  My wife and I produced two beautiful daughters, rich in character and deep in convictions.   They are our two closest friends on earth because we agreed to become Parents of Vigilance, to fight the Terrorism that infects so many children and drives wedges between mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, fathers and sons.
      We honored our children with all the love we could garnish from our lives, and swept the path ahead of them for booby traps and land mines.  We fought to teach them to "learn to think," so that they might make the best choices, and to be responsible for such choices to themselves, their God, society, and the legacy of human evolution.
      One of our daughters, the mother of two lovely children and soon-to-be mother of a third, is graduating in a couple of weeks with her Masters of Divinity from Union Theological Union in New York City.  She and her husband's mission in life is to help those in need and to fight for peace and justice.
      Our other daughter is federal special agent, daily working undercover to rid the streets of America from crime.   She packs two 9mm Glocks, and has chosen a life that demands her life be put on the line each and every day so others can sleep in peace.
      She called me today to tell me "I was one day closer to my death," a mantra we, as a family, have sung for many years, a bizarre but effective reminder to ourselves of our precious duties on this earth to make this world just a little better than before we arrived.   Some might think such a mantra is negative, morbid or morose, but it all comes down to how one views life.  If we had but one day to live, how would we live it?   Would we perform little acts of Terrorism against ourselves and others, or, would we perform little acts of Love and Respect?
      Life ultimately is precious and fragile. It is something we cannot take for granted but often do.  Over the years I have enjoyed the ultimate glories of its rewards, and the crushing defeats of its challenges.   In all cases I have been able to rise up out of the ashes with a stronger sense of purpose, a more meaningful appreciation of those whom I love, and love me even though there have been times I tried to deny that love, or was Terrorized by it because I was unable to return it.
      My wife, despite my clumsy and faltering search for myself, has remained at my side offering her support, her love, her passion to see me succeed despite my own defects of character.  My children have stood alongside me also, not always happy with me, but always proud of my struggle to right myself when I was wrong, to try and change for the good the bad, and to not be afraid to admit my flaws or hide my true feelings.
      A Parent of Vigilance is not a perfect being.   He or she is a person struggling to achieve perfection by doing the best possible job he or she can for his or her children and those who are part of life.   Along the way we all fall on our faces.   But a Parent of Vigilance versus a Parent of Complacency is not afraid to pick himself or herself out of the quagmire and move onward, toward that tiny pinhole of light in an otherwise dark and dank tunnel.
      "One day closer to my death," today means something quite different than it did years ago when we started to use the statement on our birthdays.   Back then, it meant time was running out, and we laughed and rushed to do things we had forgotten that needed to get done that day, that week, that month, that year.   
      Today, however, "one day closer to my death," means to me the "death of Terrorism within me."   For many years I was a victim of Terrorism.   I was full of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.  I never thought I was good enough or worthy enough to stand among the many.  My outside might have been big and bold and courageous looking, but inside, parts of me were Jell-O.  For whatever reason, there was a quirk in my nature, a seed of Terrorism,  that kept driving me down, treating me as though I were a nail and life was a hammer, pounding at my dreams, smashing my ambition, reducing me to a state of Emotional Nothingness.   Each time I lifted my head out of my Terrorized rut,  my defects drove me back down into myself, into the caves of unworthiness, the lonely desolate caves of self despair, self flagellation. Their Voices chimed that my life was a sham, making me feel I had been robbed of its true false treasures I sought--wealth, fame, fortune, health, youth.
      How utterly foolish I was then.
      On September 11th, 2001, when I was at Ground Zero during the Terrorist attack, and buildings crumbled and bodies leaped to their deaths and people screamed, "we're all going to die...we're all going to die..." something ignited inside me.
      I realized on that day I had a choice--to become a true Parent of Vigilance or a Parent of Terrorism.   I could continue my life in a state of emotional despondency over what I hadn't achieved, or wished I had achieved and didn't, or, I could hold up the Shield of Vigilance and bolster the Courage, the Conviction and Action necessary to become the man I have always wanted to be.
      That man stands before you today, one day closer to his death.
      I stand on over 300,000 words I have written from heart and soul since September 11th on the subject of Vigilance vs. Terrorism.
      They represent my honesty as a human being about how I feel regarding the subject, and my commitment to others that they might wish also to join me and my wife as Parents of Vigilance on a journey to protect our children, and their children, and their children's children from the ravages of Emotional as well as Physical Terrorism.
      As I look back over my life and at the graveyard of bones representing my "failures," I see them today not as defeats but rather as the marrow of wisdoms from which I am nourished to write.   Because I have failed in many areas of my life, I know I understand Terrorism as well as any Terrorist could ever think he or she understood the word.  
       I also know that countless millions like myself have also felt the same and, as they read my words (which my wife edits and assures are correct prior to publication) know they come from the heart and soul of a man who has been Terrorized by himself.
       I know that one day The Parents of Vigilance will spread the word to far reaches and that millions will take the Pledge of Vigilance as their first step toward forming a more perfect union with themselves and their children and loved ones.
       Whether this happens in my lifetime or not is not as important as my belief it will happen.   The Seed of Vigilance has been planted too deep to be kicked free by the jackboot of Terrorism.   I know this because I can truly say with joy that "I am one day closer to my death," and not fear the end of life.
       Each day I am seeding life with Vigilance.  
       If I died tomorrow, or later today, I know the seeds would flourish.
       What has slowly died within me as a result of September 11th is the Complacency that my life was without purpose.   It wasn't until I survived Nine Eleven that I began to see and realize the importance of my role on this earth as a "New York City Combat Correspondent," responsible for publishing daily "All the news that's fit to print about fighting Terrorism with Vigilance!"
       I see my life today as a candle with most of its wick burned down, but below it is a pile of candle wax full of experience, hope and wisdom.   With the time left for me, I intend to publish daily as long as I can the messages necessary to defeat Terrorism at home--in the lives of children and parents.
      I believe without any reservations that the world of Terrorism can only be fought by a world of Vigilance.   I also believe that it cannot be fought by governments, but must be fought by the citizens of each community who assume at least one percent more Courage than Fear, one percent more Conviction than Intimidation, and one percent more Action than Complacency to drive Terrorism out of their neighborhoods.
      Such neighborhoods begin under the roofs of homes and ripple out into towns, regions, states, nations and the world.
      So, I am truly one day closer to my death--to the death of Terrorism within and without.

G0 TO:  Vigilance vs. Protestors of Terrorism

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