Like everyone else, I have recollections of this year that span the range from shatteringly sad and overwhelming to profoundly courageous and buoyantly optimistic. Two stick with me, and while both on the surface involve the U.S. military, they also reveal much more forcefully who we are and how we view ourselves. And that view of ourselves--what we stand for, each of us; where we draw lines and say "no more" rather than looking the other way; our willingness to reach out when earlier we would have said we don't have the time--is the most relevant and valuable leading-edge indicator we have. As we see and hear about more predictions suggesting a midyear economic recovery, we need to stay focused: In 2002, in what ways will I do more for and with my family, my friends, and my colleagues? What will I promise, and what will I deliver?
Both impressions I mentioned above center on those themes of promises and deliveries. The first happened in May in a movie theater in New York's tony neighborhood of Chelsea. Before the movie started, the coming attractions included a public-service ad--you might have seen it on TV--showing a mother and small child in a home, then the outside of the home, then into the air to show the neighborhood, then higher to show the city, then miles up into the sky showing the whole country. And then it showed a pilot in a jet high above the earth from whose perspective the earlier scenes were viewed: a pilot in the U.S. Air Force patrolling the skies while the audio played the gentle song, "All Through The Night." When the audience realized that it was an ad for the military, many people hissed, booed, or laughed derisively. And I remember thinking, "What does this say about us? Have we become this jaded, this pathetically above-it-all?"
The second scene occurred last week at the airport in Raleigh, N.C. It seemed like half the travelers in the airport were Marines heading home for the holidays. And everywhere they went, civilians gave them cheers, waves, smiles, and pats on the back. As my flight was about to start boarding, the gate agent asked all the Marines to board first; while it took some prodding, they did so, receiving a huge ovation from the rest of us whose lives these young men and women are willing to give their lives in battle.
I'd like to think the first incident is a thing of the past and that some of our fat-cat elitism has been scrubbed away over the past few months; I want very much to believe it represents the Ghost of Christmas Past. As for the second one, I want very much to believe it reflects who we are and who we are becoming, a gift to all from the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Future.
Happy Holidays to everyone, and may each of us do our best to make 2002 the best year ever.
Two Thousand One, Nine Eleven
(an anonymous poem from the Internet)
Two thousand one, nine eleven
Four thousand-plus enter heaven.
A bearded man with stovepipe hat
Steps forward saying, "Let's sit and chat."
They settle down in seats of clouds
And a man named Martin shouts out proud,
"I have a dream!" And once he did,
The Newcomers said, "Your dream still lives."
Groups of soldiers in blue and grayv
Others in khaki, and green then say
"We're from Bull Run, Yorktown, the Maine."
And the Newcomers said, "You died not in vain."
From a man on sticks one could hear
"The only thing we have to fear--"
And a Newcomer said,
"We know the rest, Trust us, sir, we've passed that test."
"Courage doesn't hide in caves
You can't bury freedom in a grave."
The Newcomers had heard this voice before
A Yankee twang from Hyannis shore.
A silence fell within the midst
And somehow a Newcomer knew that this
Meant time had come for her to say
What was in the hearts of the four thousand that day.
"Back on Earth, we wrote reports,
Watched our children play in sports,
Worked our gardens, sang our songs,
Went to church, walked along.
We smiled and laughed, knew love and hate,
But unlike you, we were not great."
The tall man in the stovepipe hat
Stood and said, "Don't talk like that.
Look at your country, look and see--
You died for freedom, just like me."
Then before them appeared a scene
Of rubbled streets and twisted beams
Death, destruction, smoke, and dust
And people working because they must.
Hauling ash, lifting stones,
Knee-deep in hell, but not alone.
"Blackman, Whiteman, Brownman, Yellowman,
Side by side helping their fellow man!"
So said Martin, as he watched the scene.
Then: "Even from nightmares, can be born a dream."
And down below three firemen raised
The colors high in the ashen haze.
The soldiers above had seen it before--
On Iwo Jima in '44.
The man on sticks studied everything closely
Then shared his perceptions on what he saw mostly
"I see pain, I see tears,
I see sorrow--but I don't see fear.
You left behind husbands and wives
Daughters and sons, and so many lives are suffering now because of this wrong.
But look very closely: You're not really gone.
All of those people, even those who've never met you
All of their lives, they'll never forget you
Don't you see what has happened?
Don't you see what you've done?
You've brought them together, together as one."
With that the man in the stovepipe hat said,
"Take my hand," and from there he led
Four thousand Newcomers on into heaven
On this day, two thousand one, nine eleven.