I lived in Manhattan from 1999-2004 and witnessed firsthand the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11. I was also one of the thousands on the streets of New York making my way on foot away from the smoldering disaster.
The walk to my boyfriend’s house on 82nd street seemed like a mirage-like dream in slow motion—a funeral procession if it weren’t for the lingering fear still electrifying the air. Even as we walked northward, we kept turning around to look at the pillars of ash where the World Trade Center towers had been.
Jets flew in close to the ground; we ducked covering our heads—as if that would save us. It is a disconcerting feeling not knowing if what flies over your head is friend or foe—a feeling I had never felt before, but which so much of the world frequently endures. Someone yelled, “They’re ours! They’re our planes!” I was never so happy to hear the sound of F-16s.
This was a humbling feeling for me because I had always thought of myself as such as dove—such a lover of world peace; yet when my city and country were directly threatened, and I had seen it firsthand, I changed, if only for a moment.
It is in these flashes that many rash decisions are made, one of which is to kill. For whatever reason, human beings are territorial creatures; when me and mine are threatened, a solidarity and clannishness is kindled. On the whole, this is a good thing. Humans need to bond together in times of crises. But what is dangerous, is to let a flash of fear or anger dictate our responses. This is true personally as well as collectively. A flash of anger can dictate the future of an individual.
We speak, demonstrate, and pray for peace. But what we are often seeking is peaceful behavior from others, not ourselves. Written by Siedah Garrett and Glenn Ballard and later made famous by Michael Jackson, “Man in the Mirror” declares:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change.
Peace Starts with the Individual
Peace starts with the individual. How many times are we at war with ourselves? I, a dove, have been at brutal war with myself—a betrayal of my own philosophy.
It was not until my thirties that I saw the importance of what I had been taught since childhood: “Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). Peacemakers are rare. The best example of a peacemaker I have ever met was a Russian man in New Jersey. He was my boyfriend’s (yes, a different boyfriend) ex-wife’s fiancé. From what an attorney said, my former boyfriend (John) and his ex-wife had one of the bitterest divorces ever encountered in Morris County, New Jersey. It was so contentious that at one point, the drop-off and pick-up of their son had to be done in front of the police station. That all changed when Alex came into the picture.
Alex was an engineer and a man of few words. To make peace, Alex got involved. I still see him with his broad shoulders and quiet dignity standing like a sentinel waiting to give the boy to his father.
Alex had a soothing presence without saying a word. John said that he never would have been invited to his son’s birthday party save for the presence of Alex—so calming was this man.
Alex and John’s ex-wife became engaged, and shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. The cancer did not leave her body, but Alex married her anyway knowing she would probably die months later. She did.
It has been fourteen years since I have been in Madison, New Jersey where Alex’s sad story played out, and though I hardly spoke to the man, I wonder how he is and if he ever found love again; he certainly deserves it.
Alex, your memory follows me like the Christian scriptures of my youth. Peacemakers like you are rare, and you remind me of what I am not. I see you standing at a troubled country’s border like the sentinel you were in Madison, and I am convinced that if there were an army of you facing an invading force, they would see your grandeur, and simply lower their weapons. God follow you wherever you are.
by Sona Schmidt-Harris