Did You Forget?

World Trade Center memorial lightsIt was the last thing I thought about before falling asleep last night and the first thing I thought about when I awoke this morning. Yet I felt alone in my promise to never forget. Maybe I had the date wrong.

I Googled news only to find updates about Syria and predictions of the anticipated effect of the Fed’s easing of QE3, but “IT” wasn’t there. Before editing this post, I visited the doctor’s office and there were no reminders there either. Are we forgetting our promise to “Never Forget?” I pondered.

It was a normal morning like any other. Sally was in the kitchen with our two daughters finishing breakfast. I was getting ready to take our girls to school. Two weeks earlier, we moved into a new home so our daughters would not have to board at Virginia School of the Arts where they studied ballet full-time.

I walked into the kitchen running through my mental checklist, keys, wallet, shoes, socks match, I’m ready to go, when Sally shrieked, “The White House is under attack!”

“The White House isn’t under attack,” I disputed in disbelief, “I was just listening to the news.”

“We’re watching it live!” as she pointed to the TV.

The routine of our new life did not last long. I sat down and watched in disbelief.  Of course, it was not the White House that was finally hit. The hijacked American Airlines flight 77, circled the White House before infamously striking the Pentagon. Then came the repeating scene of two planes crashing through the World Trade Center in CNN’s imitable style. The rest of the day is a blur, but the days, weeks and months that followed are crystal clear.

A heavy quietness like black snow weighted down life. Airports shut down and flights were empty. Streets, roads, parking lots and stores were vacant. The world seemed to have stopped. An invisible fog pervaded everything everywhere. You could hear the sadness and feel the quiet. Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” inspired by the assassination of President Kennedy, looped in my head with new meaning.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

My introduction to the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) was brief and memorable. Airports lined with soldiers armed with automatic weapons are commonplace in many countries, but not here in the USA. The land of the free did not feel so free. We grumbled through the painful process of de-cloaking. Many watched in relief as some were inspected more closely; an unspoken promise to make sure “it” never happens again.

I was on my way to speak at a conference in Las Vegas. Even Sin City’s toned down revelry was noticeable. The people absent from my keynote speech on sales technology were more obvious than those who were present.

A year and a half later, our daughters decided against launching their dance careers in New York and other major cities. Instead, they went south to the Charleston Ballet Theatre.

Life changed forever.

Safety was no longer a given. We added 9/11 to the “Never Forget” promise that we faithfully kept for a few years. We remembered the murdered innocent and first responders who sacrificed their lives. We mourned the still grieving families. We watched commemoration ceremonies, replays, movies and documentaries. We debated the memorial plans and new World Trade Center designs. We began the healing process. We battled between our earnest promise to never forget and the need to forget our pain.

We became weary of war and called for an end to our invasion of Iraq. We called for an end to the bloodbath and a beginning to a healthier environment. Then came the financial crisis, but we really didn’t need another tragedy to replace our memory of 9/11.

During a recent conversation about President Obama’s intention to bomb Syria, I was reminded of these words by two brilliant people:

George Santayana, said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.” ―Kurt Vonnegut

Our heart and mind has a unique healing process for our pains and suffering. Our memories fade and our pain dulls, but reminders like anniversaries or an old movie of the NYC skyline with the World Trade Center revive our pains for a moment only to succumb to whatever mechanisms we created to forget. And it is okay to forget, but what about forgiveness?

My intentions for writing this morning changed as I wrote the word “forgiveness.” Forgetting adds no value other than feeling better. Forgetting without forgiveness eliminates the opportunity to become better people. Forgetting is why and how we repeat the mistakes of the past.

We all make mistakes. We’ve all hurt people we love, our family, lovers, partners, friends, neighbors, business associates, customers and strangers. We all want forgiveness and deserve forgiveness. But do we forgive those who trespass against us with the same forgiveness we expect for our trespasses against others?

How do we defend, protect and forgive? Is there a more difficult human challenge?

Mom, Captain Dolores Dilger Rike, on Cason with Honor Guard & Marching Band

Mom, Captain Dolores Dilger Rike, on Cason with Honor Guard & Marching Band. 8/29/2013

Few have more admiration and honor than me for the men and women who stand on the wall to protect our freedom and keep us safe. Two weeks ago, we attended my mother-in-law’s full-honors ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. Mom, Captain Dolores Dilger Rike, was laid to rest next to her husband who also received full-honors when he left us in 1998. They were two unmatchable people who simply did as they said, “The right thing.” Without them and their generation, Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito would have prevailed and our world would be ruled under one horrific despot.

I believe every American and every citizen of the world should watch a full-honors ceremony at Arlington, because words cannot express the depth and breadth of honor, respect and gratitude paid by the soldiers who perform the ceremonies.

We need our military in this world to protect the innocent. As Colonel Jessup said in “A Few Good Men, “Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls need to be guarded by men and women with guns.”

We bombed Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. We captured, imprisoned and tortured who knows how many “enemy combatants.” We prevented terrorist attacks on the USA mainland and many other nations.  Until humankind evolves, people will commit atrocities against the innocent who need and deserve protectors. Finding the balance between defense and aggression is an intellectual and spiritual battle we must wage and win.

For a kid from Brooklyn who watched the building of the World Trade Center, a New Yorker raised to never take anyone’s crap and to carry everything to the grave without forgiveness, reconciling the vicious inhuman 9/11 attacks was near impossible.

To err is human, to forgive is divine.

But if we carry hate and vengeance in our hearts, the enemy has won. We must defend the innocent without becoming terrorists ourselves, a challenge and conundrum of immense proportions. Perhaps the best way to remember 9/11 and to fully heal is with forgiveness.