Looking Forward

I’ve been thinking long an hard about what’s appropriate for this 10th anniversary of 9/11. There can be no doubt that this horrific day was a defining moment for a generation of Americans. It brought sadness, suffering and death into our collective focus. We should never forget it.

We should also never forget Pearl Harbor, The Watts Riots, The Holocaust, those who lost their lives to violence last night in our cities. We should never forget the hungry, the homeless, the sick and the uneducated. All who suffer deserve our attention.

But what if it turns out that we’re all suffering?

In every life there are excruciating moments of pain caused either purposefully or inadvertently by someone else. Loss of a loved one, violence, betrayal, abuse, neglect. One or more of these events have happened at some point to all of us.

Below the surface of our affected calm is a sea of discontent.

How does one learn from tragedy? How is it possible for a person to emerge from the unimaginable stronger and more grounded?

To paraphrase one of my favorite modern philosophers, Admiral Jim Stockdale, “Accept the unpleasant reality of your current situation without ever losing faith in your future.”

Every toad you kiss brings you that much closer to finding your prince. A cancer diagnosis can focus you on the beauty of the moment. An injury can be a meditation in resilience.

Every bad thing that happens can be a catalyst for positive change. If you’re willing to learn from your past, and look forward.

The most powerful voice I heard among the many who were talking about 9/11 came to me from Lynne Steuerle Schofield. Her mother, Norma Lang Steuerle, died when American Airlines Flight 77 was flown into the Pentagon. She wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post that speaks volumes.

“When I reflect on my mother’s ideals, I think of her compassion. She spent her life counseling and listening to others. She became a friend, and she helped her clients work toward honorable solutions for their lives. She believed that people and institutions could change, but also that change takes incredibly hard work and requires getting everyone on board.

“I believe that is true for all of us — as citizens of our country and our world. If we want the world to be more compassionate, safer and more equitable, we have to work to make that happen. We all have to be on board. We should reflect on the characteristics of our loved ones that we want to keep alive, and then we must behave that way.

For many, this past year has been filled with more than our share of fear, uncertainty and doubt. Noma concludes her reflections with this hopeful revelation: The past may have been part of who we were, but with every new day we can create who we want to become.

“Reflect on what you want the world to be in 10 years and then look forward and act on those reflections. Transform those reflections into reality.”

However you may be hurting, whatever you may have lost, I hope you are inspired to do the only thing we really can do when bad things happen: Look forward.

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