Angels of our better nature
It was early in my third year in South Africa. Kids and teachers had just settled into the year. It was warm for September. Warm and dusty and quiet with the kids gone for the day except for the few staying on for after school activities. Little is as quiet as a school after hours.
Walking down the covered passageway someone said a plane had hit a building in New York. It sounded a bit wild and improbable and we heard all kinds of stories about wild events just around the corner; hijackings, home invasions, brutal robberies, wild west shoot outs at the malls.
I shrugged and kept on going. We didn’t have a lot of tech in the school, the connectivity was iffy at best.
A little later someone else had a bit more information, still sketchy but enough to make us all uneasy. Something was going on out there. Something big enough that trickles were reaching all the way to the top of a ridge above Johannesburg in South Africa, something from home wasn’t right. I thought of my sister and brother who were in Manhattan.
Wonder turned to anxiety and we hurried home.
Turned on CNN
and there it was
the one tower burning
and just then the second plane hit
again and again and again
the news in an endless loop reinforcing the unreality of it all
Except I knew Kat was there and Jeff and Stephen
somewhere in that pall of smoke and strained faces and horror
people I knew
The school argued about whether to stay in session or cancel. We ended up opening. Some people from the US Embassy refused to come in. Fear sifted in through every chink and crack.
What I remember most from those days is how when I walked through the malls and people heard my accent, all of them; car guards, security guards, bank tellers, waitrons, managers, just random shoppers in the malls. They all stopped and said how sorry they were, how terrible it was.
I felt a great connection between us all, a sense of humanity united. An attitude of empathy in a country that was living its own reality of division and separation.
And now, what I think about most, is how that moment, paid for at such a price, that precious moment of connection and solidarity, was squandered and its currency still spent on hate and division and deadly blinkered ignorance.
Squandered by politicians to build identity and brand and recognition.
Squandered by the drum beat of war.
Squandered by the hatred for others that floods in on wings of fear.
If we could have turned the focus to the other side.
If we could have focused on humanity
instead of creating demons.
If we could have built bridges instead of walls,
we might have not have lost the world.