Article Overview:   We all have a Terror Switch and a Vigilance Switch in our chemistry.  Which one flicks on in a crisis?    That's the issue facing the Port Authority transcripts.   See if you have your Vigilance Switch ready to turn on.


Saturday--August 30, 2003—Ground Zero Plus 717
Turning On The Switch Of Vigilance or Terror
Cliff McKenzie
   Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

GROUND ZER0, New York, N.Y.--Aug. 30, 2003-- I got choked up this morning reading about a mother telling a Port Authority switchboard operator the times her child would be out of school and where to pick her up.    The mother, trapped in the Windows of the World restaurant as fire and smoke raged upward at her, was preparing to die.   But before she did, she was insuring the safety and security of her child.

A New Jersey Judge ruled a July agreement between the NY Times and the Port Authority was valid

      Transcripts of communications passing to and from Port Authority officers were released a couple of days ago.  Judge Sybil R. Moses ruled a July agreement between newspapers and the Port Authority calling for the release of transcripts was valid and enforceable. 
      The Port Authority lost 84 employees, 37 officers, in the attack.  The transcripts numbered about 2,000 pages and covered more than three hours of recorded conversation between agency employees, rescue workers and people trapped inside the towers.  In passionless black and white, without the background of crackling fires or screaming Voices, the words of those about to die and those watching them die are recorded.

An architect, Frank De Martini, and a construction inspector, Pablo Ortiz, saved this group (50 total) on the 88th and 89th floors.  The rescuers didn't survive.

      I remember the calmness in the midst of the panic of that horrific day of Terror.   As the buildings collapsed around us, we, who had been looking up at those leaping from the buildings, suddenly were stripped of spectator privileges.  We were among the combatants as millions of pounds of concrete and steel shrapnel shot at us.
     I remember my own transcripts.   The women next to me wailing in mournfully as the earth shuddered and heaved and we all thought this was the end:  "We're gonna die...We're all gonna die....We're gonna die..."
     Like the transcripts ring in the ears of the switchboard operators at the Port Authority that day, so do the Voices next to me ring in my ears today, and every day when someone or something triggers the issue of life and death, or when the value of life is questioned.
      I remember grabbing the women next to me, two in one arm, one in another, and shoving them up against a brick wall to keep them from being trampled by fleeing people stampeding in the horror uptown, and to provide shelter from the projectiles being hurled at us as the Twin Towers, just a few blocks away, imploded.
      My own transcript replays that moment.   I remember saying to the frightened, sobbing women as the pall of death shrouded down upon us--a thick black nothingness of ashen waste we were sure was laced with biochemical--"If we're going to die, let our last thoughts be of something beautiful.  Think of something beautiful!"
      Nature has a way of making death shine in the eyes of those about to die.   In my case, I chose not to cry or sob or wail.    I had seen much death before in Vietnam, much more than my share.    And I wasn't afraid of death, not quick death.  I feared writhing on the ground, my lungs and throat seared by some chemical gas that prolonged death.   I didn't want to die slowly, in agony.

The mother whose transcript I read was thinking of her child's safety

     In a flash, those thoughts ignited in my mind as I held the women up against the wall, as though I might protect them from some invisible enemy.    My words coughed through the veil of deadly blackness...."Think of something beautiful...."
      Reading the transcripts released by the Port Authority recording the conversations of Nine Eleven, the one between the mother and officer about the time to pick up her child struck me the hardest.
      The mother was seeing and thinking about something beautiful--her child's safety.    No Terrorist could take away her duty as a Sentinel of Vigilance.   There was no room in her heart at that moment for Fear, Intimidation or Complacency.    She was filled with the Courage, Conviction and Right Actions necessary to protect her children, and serve as a model for their Children's Children's Children.
      I thought about the Vigilance Switch.
      Inside us all exists two switches.  One, the Vigilance Switch.  The other, the Terror Switch.
      One ignites our Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.   The other our Courage, Conviction and Right Actions for future generations.
       There were bodies leaping out of the World Trade Center holding hands, brave and courageous acts of fellowship between human beings facing death in handsome way.    They were defying the Beast of Terror who sought to turn them into groveling masses of selfish flesh seeking their own survival over others.   

Todd Beamer had his Vigilance Switch on during Flight 93

       Their Vigilance Switch was set in the on position all the way down.
       The mother who called the Port Authority about her child that day had her Vigilance Switch on.   Death became a secondary issue to the safety of her child.
       Todd Beamer and other members of Flight 93 must have felt their Vigilance Switch snap on when they elected to attack their captors.   Beamer's last words:  "Let's Roll!" were words issued from a man whose Vigilance Switch was on high.   The actions of the passengers on Flight 93 led to the crashing of the Terrorist plane in a field in Pennsylvania rather than into the White House or the Capitol building.  It also left a legacy of Vigilance, of people more concerned for the safety of others than for themselves.
     There were many people that day whose Vigilance Switch clicked on, shutting down the Terror Switch that went on automatically.    Terrorism seems to automatically ignite the face of the Beast of Terror.    Instinctively, we duck and weave and cower and flinch when the first wave of the attack comes.   
        Then, we face a choice.
        Do we remain cowering at the mercy of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency in the face of Terror, or, do we conjure the Courage, Conviction and Right Actions necessary to rise above it all and do what is right to help others?
        Terrorism breeds selfishness.    I still remember the faces of people running up the street when the buildings started to collapse, eyes glazed, knocking down anyone in their way, rushing to save their own skins.

Our Vigilance Switch must be ready to override our Terror Switch

       They had their Terror Switches on.    They hadn't yet reached up with the Hand of Vigilance and switched the Vigilance Power on.
        Part of my Vigilance Switch on Nine Eleven was turned on by my younger daughter.  She's a federal law enforcement officer, and I kept wondering where she was?   Was she trapped under the rubble.   I fruitlessly called and called on my cell phone to reach her.  
        And, when I sat down to write the visions of the Sentinels of Vigilance I saw that day, I was recording the events for my grandchildren, and their Children's Children's Children.    Nature, survival, made me think ahead to the future and not the present.  It forced me to be like the mother up in Windows on the World, calling the Port Authority to insure they would pick up her child, repeating the time and place and schedule of the child's activities so that when she died, she would know that her last effort had been the safety and security of her children.
        I personally believe each of us needs to insure our Vigilance Switch is well-oiled and ready to override our Terror Switch.
      But, to insure that, I also believe we all need to be subscribing Parents of Vigilance.   We need to stand up and be counted now so that when the next Terror attack comes, we are not ill prepared to face it with Courage, Conviction and Right Actions.
       That means we all need to find something bigger than ourselves to think about during any crisis, whether it be a physical, mental, emotional or spiritual Terrorist attack.  
       In the Pledge of Vigilance below, I cite the importance of vowing to protect the Children's Children's Children....    I believe anyone can make this vow, whether he or she is a parent or not.

We have a duty to leave the world a little safer for the children

        A teenage boy or girl can make the vow, just as the single man or woman can.   All of us, as human beings, owe our lives to the future of the world.    We may deny the obligation and think we have a right to be selfish and not care about the future of the world, but when we sit in the quiet of our humanness, and we look up at the moon and stars and listen to the rustling of the wind in the trees, we know we have a duty to the future.
       That duty is to leave the world a little safer for the kids.
        The mother atop the World Trade Center knew that.   Her last words were all about securing the safety of her children.
       As Citizens of Vigilance, if we were all facing our last breath, and we all had but one message to deliver before we died, what would it be?   To whom?
       Perhaps we need to think about the question:  "To whom and what do you say if you are about to issue your last words on earth?"
       Would you leave a message for the children?    For your sons or daughters, grandchildren, nieces, nephews?

The most powerful messages are those passed on to the children of the world

      In the great legacy of life, the most powerful messages are those passed on to the children of the world.    It is easy to pass on messages to adults, but not so easy to pass them on to children.    The reason is we sometimes don't think about the importance of children until the last minute, and often the last minute is too late.
      Maybe it would be good for everyone to think about the last words they would say to the children of the world, their own and others.
       What words would you say?   Why?
       If you do this exercise, you'll turn your Vigilance Switch on.
       And, when it's on, you'll hear the Voices of the Sentinels of Vigilance.  One of those Voices belongs to a mother who died on September 11, 2001, talking to the Port Authority about insuring her child would be picked up.

Aug 29--Gasping Breaths Of Terror

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