Debi Corcoran’s family had a beautiful reunion this summer. For the first time in years, her brother and sisters and their children all got together and celebrated their mother’s 72nd birthday on the Massachusetts coast. It was a week in which they got to share the depth of love and laughter and caring, Debi observes, that only families provide.
One morning this fall, her brother Jay took off on a routine business flight. He kissed his wife and teenage children goodbye and boarded a plane at Logan airport for his job as an engineering officer in the merchant marine. That journey ended when his jet crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
The Corcorans’ story is one of countless tragedies that took place on September 11, 2001. Such stories could and should be told not just for each of the departed, but for the sake of every grieving family member, friend, classmate, neighbor, business associate or simple acquaintance who mourns their loss. If one story each night were told on the evening news, the tale would last sixteen years–long beyond the thousand and one nights of the beloved Scheherezade.
What can we possibly do with this enormity of grief? It’s hard enough to bear one loss, let alone thousands, but surely these innocents deserve our honor and their loved ones our compassion.
So it is that in the name of the dead–and in the name of all we would protect from a similar fate–we have embarked on a war against terrorism. Already our leaders have unleashed a storm of firepower upon Afghanistan, raining bombs across the landscape at such a rate that after only a week, reports said, the military had almost run out of targets.
But war is not what Debi Corcoran of Helena, Montana, would have us wage on her brother’s behalf. Here is someone with more reason than most to crave the “dead or alive” justice President Bush has promised; more reason than most for lethal anger or consuming bitterness; more reason than most to demand protection above all; and yet her story is of hope and light, of prayer and transformation.
Shortly after she learned of the attack, Debi stopped in at her downtown Helena cafe. She remembers an enormity of loss, a vast movement of energy, and the awareness she shared with a friend that “These people are giving us the opportunity to change the world.” Only later, talking to her mother, would she learn that her brother was among them.
One who has long worked for what she calls “a future for our kids” issues, Corcoran feels it is time for Americans to face the truth that we have not always pursued democracy in other countries, sometimes favoring repressive regimes for the sake of our own corporate interests. She believes we can no longer imagine ourselves separate from others; any boundary lines were shattered by the September 11 attack.
Seeing Afghan women fleeing to the border with their children, Corcoran thinks of her own kids and says, “I can’t bear to be another human being in this circle of hate.” She believes we are at a crossroads where one path leads to revenge and destruction, and the other to love, compassion, peace and change. “We came here to learn,” she says of life. “We came here to learn to love, and that is the greatest thing we can learn.”
Corcoran’s sentiments are echoed with almost eerie agreement, half a nation away in North Carolina, by the brother of another victim. David Potorti said that though he feels very sad and misses his brother, confronting the truth brings a sense of calm.
“It is not a bad thing to have your illusions shattered,” he says: while we mourn our recent losses, over the last ten years 6000 children have perished every month in Iraq, due to our ongoing war and sanctions. Ill treatment extends within our country as well, he notes, in our failure to address inequities of income, welfare reform, or a livable minimum wage. “This just cannot go on,” he said. “The world will find its balance.”
To find that balance, Potorti believes we must take action: action to limit the power of corporations, to demand more meaningful news coverage, to commit to civilized behavior within and beyond our borders. The idea that we can ever be completely safe was a lie before September 11 and is a lie now; the only way to be safe, he says, is to have a just society.
While across our nation some are calling for a return to normal, others are calling for an end to business as usual and the beginning of something even better. As Debi Corcoran said, “This didn’t just happen to me. It is all our loss, all our gain, all our chance. It is within all our power to change this world.”
Copyright 2001, ‘Asta Bowen
Op-Ed Column 10/17/01