Today is Friday. Eight years ago, when our world fractured, it was Tuesday. I was away in Chicago for a meeting. I was eating breakfast when my cell phone rang, and a distraught voice on the other end told me that we were under attack: a plane had just struck one of the World Trade Center towers. It would not be long before the second tower and the Pentagon got hit, and another plane went down in a Pennsylvania field.
My meeting was at the Westin in Chicago. Throngs of guests crowded around the television in a small bar to bear witness to the surreal events. Rain of airplanes and people, falling, jumping... The vivid images of billowing smoke and dust caught in my throat. No one was sure what would get hit next -- Los Angeles? Boston? Chicago? I recall the wave of relief upon seeing a colleague in the bar who had just flown in from New Jersey that morning. I recall ghostly emptiness of Chicago streets, police cars parked, with their lights spinning.
I recall getting myself back to Boston, into Logan, terminal B, where my car was parked, close to midnight on the 12th. Another dark and silent ghost town, police car lights throwing blue and red splashes on buildings and sidewalks. It was hard to remember where I had left my car.
In subsequent days it was impossible to drag myself away from CNN -- I survived on a steady diet of anger, conjecture, analysis, voyeurism. When the names of passengers came out, I realized that one was a former colleague with whom I had recently sat down to lunch: he had been on his way to a Continuing Medical Education program in San Diego.
I did not fly for the rest of the year; I drove everywhere and avoided journeys too far away from home. Despite being requested to do so by the leader of the free world, I did not go shopping. I spent time with my kids, family, friends. I fasted on Yom Kippur and stood up for the mourners' kaddish. I began to cultivate an organic understanding of Tikkun Olam (Repairing the World).
As days, weeks, months and years are whisking me farther away from that day, I am finding myself washed up on the doorstep of the world that is more broken than it was on that day of darkness. We are broken by poverty, wars, hatred and greed, by lies told by politicians in the name of expediency, by divisiveness of power grabs, by denying our human drive to help one another. The current devastations are more gradual and muted, and therefore less viscerally shocking. They are not the in-your-face acts of terror, but they are nevertheless leading us down the path of societal destruction. Compared to the self-inflicted collapse of our financial institutions one year ago, the fears for terrorist attack-caused economic upheaval were but a weak tremor. The tens of thousands of people dying every year here in the US because they either do not have access to needed healthcare or are trapped in a healthcare system that is fraught with errors and harm dwarf the magnitude of the loss of life of 9/11. Millions of children coming home from school to an empty house to sit inside for hours in front of the most effective sales and marketing machine, to drink soda and eat chips and become diabetic and hypertensive before graduating from middle school, is the result of terror far more egregious than anything perpetrated or contemplated by our acknowledged enemies.
As our President pointed out the other night, "the time for bickering is over". Now more than ever in my lifetime we need to engage in repairing the world. Out of respect for those who perished that day and those who have given their lives since, Tikkun Olam!