A Letter to a Friend, with Thoughts on Terrorism and Tragedy

Dear Jim:

I don't know what to say. Words are worthless. They won't bring Tara back to you and your family.

I think I agree with a minister down here who said, "I just hope we get the bastards."

Hardly a quote you'd expect from a priest. But he said it. Between the propers and the peace.

I say down here, because I'm out of the country. I can't even send you a card, or attend a memorial service, or give you a hug
And, I feel so helpless. As I write, Congress is being evacuated. More buildings may fall in New York. The FBI has closed another airport. The stock market may open again on Monday. No one knows when Logan will reopen.

The aftermath of the terrorism aboard those four airplanes and the resulting tragedy on the ground, is impossible to understand. As I write this column--a replacement for one written earlier that seems absolutely trivial in light of the week's events--my news sources are extremely limited.

I have my ticket, but I can't home. And that makes me feel very patriotic. More so than ever. I'd wave an American flag, but I don't have one.

I'm in Mexico on vacation this week. And it just seems surrealistic to know that I cannot return to Westfield, to Boston, to our country, as scheduled.

The border is closed, and travelers hoping to get back to the United States via Mexico have been disappointed--and stranded. The Mexican Government's tourism office is running newspaper ads offering 50 percent discount on hotel rooms for people unable to get home. And, a three minute phone call.

Meanwhile, Mexico is gearing up for its Independence Day celebrations this weekend. Traditional red, white and green banners are flying over government buildings and the smallest homes. Fireworks are being put in place.

But it is eerily quiet, even here, except for entire schools who march up and down my street, practicing for their version of the Fourth of July parades. They play the same drum and bugle song that the Police Band practices here every morning. (Musically, they are all dreadful.)

Few people are in the Jardin in the center of town where everyone, Mexicans and Americans alike, usually gather. Some call it God's waiting room, because so many old men hang out there. But the benches were empty at noon today. The market, where we go for food or flowers, was almost deserted.

Strangers say hello and ask how we feel. Hugo, the man fixing the roof wanted to be sure our families were safe. The flower lady asked if we were sad. Nacho, the gardener, shrugged, his english failing him when he tried to say something about the visions on the TV set.

I want you to know, Jim, that the terrorism that murdered your daughter has affected people here, as well as in the United States.

I've watched the news on cable television--although, just as a woman who survived burial in the Pentagon ruins told her story tonight, our cable system failed.

There is one English language newspaper here--The News--with today's headlines, arriving at noon, already out of date. Spanish language papers blast the word "Apocalypse" on the front page. "Terror from the Skies." "First war of the century."

I cannot tune in any radio stations in English. The internet--yes! Often, but unreliable. I used it to tell my children I love them.

As a former news reporter, I wonder about a lot of things. What really went on in the airplanes. Did the passengers see the World Trade buildings coming into view at eye level? How many madmen were involved?

How do you garner the courage to jump off a tall building? What happened to the handicapped in the buildings?

How awful it must be to lose a family member, with little, or no, hope of retrieving any remains. How frightening it must be to work in the ruins in recovery efforts.
And, what should we be doing now?

Curt and I went to church last night. Looking for some answers, I suppose. And, finding few.

The Episcopal Church, the only Protestant church in town, had a prayer vigil, with those who gathered telling stories, mainly happy tales about people who survived. Joyous calls from relatives.

I told them about you, Jim, and about Tara, Westfield's direct connection to tragedy. And I asked them to pray for you and your families. They shared hugs and tears for you. And everyone cried. And, prayed. As I write this, I cry again.

Last night, the priest quoted in the beginning of this column said prayer was a good thing to lean on when you don't know what else to do. Even if you don't know what words to use.

So, I prayed some more. Afterall, you can't just keep thinking, "Kill the bastards."

The local priest quoted Episcopal Bishop Frank Griswald, who said that the events in New York and Boston made him "keenly aware that violence knows no boundaries and that security is an illusion. To witness the collapse of the World Trade Center was to confront not only our vulnerability as a nation in spite of our power, but also the personal vulnerability of each of us to events and circumstances that overtake us.

"Our President has vowed to hunt down and punish those who are responsible for these depraved and wicked acts. Many are speaking of revenge. Never has it been clearer to me than in this moment that people of faith…are called to be about peace and the transformation of the human heart, beginning with our own.

"I am not immune to emotions of rage and revenge, but I know that acting on them only perpetuates the very violence I pray will be dissipated and overcome.

"Yes," Bishop Griswald said, "those responsible must be found and punished for their evil and disregard for human life, but through the heart of this violence we are called to another way. May our response be to engage with all our hearts and minds and strength in God's project of transforming the world into a garden, a place of peace where swords can become plowshares and spears are changedinto pruning hooks."


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