I have to
write this now, while I can; before exhaustion, or grief, or
rage overwhelm me to the point that the pen becomes too heavy
to lift. Having been where I have been, and seen what I have
seen, I am well-versed enough in human activity to know that
we are still a long way from transcending the hatreds of our
minds or the violence of our hands. The world is really no less
a dangerous place than it was in my long ago youth; about that
fact I am practical.
Still, there are some places where you think you are just possibly
beyond that danger; where you are for the moment safe from that
clutching, destroying hand of anger that shakes so much of the
world. These places stand proud and tall, on the skyline and
in the mind, because they are not built by the crack of the whip,
but rather by the exercise of the will and the mind, and those
who appreciate the difference can possibly find a home there.
Now, events have shown that no place is safe from the violence;
there is no haven from the terrible actions of weak minds, and
those places which stand so tall will become targets precisely
because of their pride and their accomplishments.
As I sit here, resting for a moment from many hours work, my
hands are rough and raw from pulling stones and lifting steel,
so that in many ways this document is written in blood. I am
surrounded by smoke, the noise of emergency vehicles, and the
ruins of once-great buildings. On the ground about me are a field
of white shrouds, swiftly becoming red from the carnage that
they cover. Survivors, shocked into speechlessness or incoherence,
flock through the streets, many of them wearing the dust of the
buildings collapse so that they appear to be nothing more than
shades, grey residents of a half-dead netherworld. News reporters
crowd the perimeter, or edge into the action where they can.
By now they have no doubt inundated the world with the detials
of the event to the point of redundancy; now they fill the time
with bystander interviews while awaiting word either of survivors
found or worse, a death toll confirmed. Personnel and volunteersw
run throughout the site, fighting fires, moving rubble, clearing
the damage as much as possible in the hopes that they will find
somebody -- anybody -- alive beneath that mountain of destruction.
Every one of them wears a face of urgency, a look of dealing
with the HERE and the NOW that has to be giving their minds shelter
from the anger and the terror that would otherwise grip them.
Are they afraid, as I was, that if they stop moving for too long
they will simply be overwhelmed by the force of their emotions?
Everywhere -- everywhere -- is tragedy, from the great to the
small, and the city trembles at the brink of insanity in the
face of a reality that is almost too much for the mind to bear.
Here is destruction of a kind that I have rarely seen, and had
hoped never to see again.
Earlier today, while shifting some of the shapeless slabs that
had once been a center of commerce, I found an intact framed
collage showing pictures of a young man at play with two young
girls, probably his daughters. Someone had taken the time to
prepare this collage for him, someone who, along with those girls,
would possibly never see that man again. Seeing this, I realized
that there were hundreds, perhaps thousands, possibly tens of
thousands of children, wives, husbands, lovers, mothers and fathers
who had said good-bye to a loved one this morning, having no
reason to suspect that it would be for the last time. The knowledge,
in its immediacy, was almost too much for me to stand under,
and I was briefly frozen into numbed immobility. If I, who have
travelled so long and have witnessed some of humanity's greatest
crimes, can be humbled before such an idea, how do these people,
who have had nothing to prepare them for this, bear it?
All through this time, from the first moment I heard of these
events, even through my work, lyrics from a popular song have
been running through my mind like a mantra. Perhaps they block
out some of the greater horror of the situation, or perhaps they
are a result of my own subconscious mind commenting on the world
I see before me:
"Superman, where are you now?
When everything seems wrong somehow?
The Man of Steel and all his power
Is losing control by the hour...."
But there is no superman waiting to step forward and right
the wrongs of this day; there is no man of steel who will clear
this confusion. If anyone is going to make sense of this day,
it is the people I see running around me: working, helping, doing.
Even in this darkest hour, even in the midst of this evil day,
the light of human potential shines bright, and that is the truly
incredible thing about this event. In this sudden chaos, as some
people flee from the destruction, others run to the site, intent
on helping where they can. Police and emergency workers from
across the state tirelessly labour to aid the survivors and find
any hint of life beneath the waste. A never-ending parade of
ambulances, stretchers and medical teams proceeds to and from
the wreckage, while firefighters wage the battle of their lives
agains fires that must surely seem to spew from Hell itself.
All this is undertaken under the shadow of further collapse,
and the knowledge that over one hundred of their comrades lie
trapped, probably dead, beneath the ruins.
Volunteers, both professional and unskilled flock to the scene
to offer aid and relief in any way possible. Survivors are fed,
sheltered, cared for while shattered relatives, seeking those
lost, are comforted and supported, urged to hold tight to their
belief that life may still endure.
In Canada, people have opened their homes to travellers lost,
whle relief services around the world send aid to support the
salvage effort. Blood services bring their precious cargo from
all over the continent, proving that people are capable of giving
of their very bodies at a time like this. It has been said that
the greatest heroes arise in the times of greatest adversity.
The actions of the world on this day are proof of that, proof
that is bitterly found, and hard won.
I think it is no vanity to say that in the times of my life I
have many times been acclaimed a hero. Often, the actions which
have won me that acclaim have been carried out in opposition
to the will or mood of those around me. Today, my actions are
all in accord with these people....there is no conflict of wills
here; today no one person is the focus, and heroes do not stand
alone. I have always been known as the Pariah, the solitary one;
today I stand as one equal among friends.
The people who have done this thing sought to bring terror and
a general sense of defeat to those who love freedom and life.
Perhaps some of those left alive have been so affected. However,
from where I sit, I see a different result: I see a strength
of character and a resolve to uphold life that will bow to no
oppressive hand. That strength has carried these people through
these days of madness, and will, I think, carry them forward.
By now, those who watch and wait for our defeat must know that
they have failed, and I think that with that knowledge must come
the certainty of their own inevitable destruction, and I hope
that certainty brings a cold chill of fear to those enemies of
life and reason.
Already, I hear people speak the same old words advocating tolerance,
peace and forgiveness. They would deal in words instead of actions,
and attempt to reason, to bargain with the people who have done
this. It is beyond me how they cannot see that this is what has
been done up to this point. The arguing, compromising, bargaining
has been tried, and it has failed. Today's events show that it
is clearly impossible to reason with people who see the rule
of force as the final solution, and the slaughter of innocent
people as being rationally equal to peaceful negotiation. There
comes a time when a person, a people, a country have to admit
that the talking must take second place to the doing.
If I could speak one word of reason to these people out of
this madness, it would be: rebuild. Do not allow the petty hatreds
and evil actions of frightened men to lay this monument forever
low. Do not admit defeat in the face of insanity; dignify the
dead and honor the living by sweeping this awful day from the
streets and your memories, and build the dream anew.
The lyrics of that song come back to me again, but in a different
"This is the world we live in,
And these are the hands we're given.
Use them and let's start trying
To make this a world worth living in."
These hands, these many hands that labour here today will
be the same hands that build tomorrow, and maybe, finally, the
world they build will be worth the living.