9/11 from A to Z

September 10, 2021 by Claire Coleman

I wish I had more self discipline as a writer. I wish I was that person who set boundaries and gave herself permission to write even when the other parts of her life needed attention. That person who could step over laundry to be washed, bypass dishes in the sink, ignore the weeds in the flowerbed, emails to be initiate or returned and sit and write. If I could I have a list of books, blogs and articles to my name. But I can’t.

Except when it draws closer to September 11.

I am compelled to write. I feel an obligation to write. In fact I feel more of a moral obligation to do so than at any other time of year, including Christmas. And for someone who believes deeply in prayer, specifically praying for others – so much so that I wrote a book on it. Well, that says something. But where does this sense of moral obligation come from? I’m not sure. My little blog is inconsequential compared to the enormous catalog of remembrances: special tv coverage, documentaries, personal stories, the historical accounting, video footage of the events but it means something to me.

There is a spirituality to this day and reverence must be paid. Perhaps this is how my parents felt about Pearl Harbor. Neither of my parents spoke often of that day but I knew they knew men who were lost when Pearl Harbor transformed from naval station to graveyard on a Sunday in December. Lincoln referred to Gettysburg as “hallowed ground” and while other Civil War battle sites have been turned into shopping malls or parking lots, Gettysburg is preserved.

I think it comes down to respect for the dead. In battle, both sides take losses and soldiers die. That is the way of war. But when 2,977 innocent people die on a crisp September morning, – people who did nothing but show up for work or get on a plane – there is a collective grief at the enormity of the senseless loss. I have to mark the day with prayer and words from my heart to honor the lives lost.

In a previous blog, I referred to the reading of the names of those who died as a sort of litany of the saints. I still feel that way. This year, instead of watching the ceremony at Ground Zero at which the names are read, I will listen to it on the radio as I drive to a baby shower in New Jersey.

When I hear certain names, I will connect an image to that name. First, I listen for Joe who graduated a year ahead of me in high school. He was president of the student council and I was the junior representative on the executive committee. I saw him almost every day. I remember a popular guy with an easy smile and sincere heart. I remember his love of baseball.

I wait for Richard Guadagno’s name – my husbands’s cousin. He was an incredibly gifted musician, a gentle soul, a naturalist at heart who worked to protect the environment as an officer with the Fish and Wildlife Service. He gave his life fighting the highjackers on Flight 93. His wallet and badge were eventually located by an FBI agent in an area where the cockpit slammed into the ground. His badge survived his fight. His valor is part of history.

Also on my list is Michael, a young man with a young family, his third child born just weeks before the attack. I can see him bounding into the pool area of our golf club, checking on his kids, kissing his darling wife and heading off to have a beer with his mates. Frank was a husband and dad who I knew in town and from church. A great guy who loved his wife and family. The type of guy who always helped out with Little League and football practices. A salt-of-the-earth solid guy.

And then there are all the names in between. Allens, Marinos, Murphys, Rodreguezs and Rosenbaums, Wong and Woods. I listen all the way if I can or for as long as time permits. I try to listen to the last Z . I don’t know who were dishwashers or servers at the breakfast meeting at Windows on the World, who were insurance executives and secretaries, the financial brokers and traders, the police, firemen, EMS and Port Authority workers. I don’t know who were the pilots, crew and passengers on the planes or the men and women in the Pentagon. I doubt one person imagined their fate and the world altering consequences of that day.

I had a dear friend who in his career worked at three firms located in the World Trade Center. He made great friends wherever he went. In the weeks after 9/11 he went to 48 funerals. He never sat one out no matter the toll it was taking on him. He honored his friends by his presence. I will continue to listen to the names as my way of honoring all the friends, the fathers, the mothers, the sisters and brothers, sons and daughters who were victims that day. I will pray for the families they left behind. And I will write about it all next year. I must.

Why Bullying Can’t Be Stopped

January 27, 2020 by Claire Coleman

Despite the “names can never hurt me” refrain from the “Sticks and Stones” couplet we heard as kids, we absolutely know that names do hurt, they cut deep, they follow us, they imbed themselves into our self esteem, memory and psyche. Show me a person who never experienced a taunt and I’ll show you a single child home schooled through college by a loving parent. Unfortunately, it is a universal experience with a wide spectrum.

We all want the school-bullying, the cyber bullying and, I’m going to add, the political-bullying to stop. We don’t want our children and grandchildren to fall into the abyss of it in any arena. We encourage, support and participate in school programs and those in our communities, towns, and workspaces that identify the words and actions of bullies and attempt to build bridges and heal those affected by it.

And yet – it will never stop. Our wishing and hoping and tax dollars, our therapists and social workers and anti-bullying slogans will fail. All for the simple fact: Our culture does not support it.

We are two-faced on the issue. We strongly declare “Zero Tolerance” for bullies and their destructive tactics among our children, but we flock to watch comedians wallow in the muck of it, then we chose to repeat or retweet it. We fail to call out politicians for the mean-spirited and insensitive nicknames and labels meant to undermine an opponent’s character and accomplishments. We laugh and repeat it either verbally or by email.

And then there is Twitter – where a person’s flaws – physical, mental or otherwise are relentlessly highlighted, underscored, enlarged, and played back with a Boomerang technique for the sake of a laugh, a taunt or a career ending push over the edge. There are people who are pros at this. They sit in front of screens trolling for the next slip-up in a speech, a stumble on the red carpet, wardrobe malfunction or sophomoric pranks from middle school. Sad way to get a laugh or attention.

The examples of high level bullying are endless – Last week Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Carl Bernstein nicknamed Sen. Mitch McConnell, “Moscow Mitch” and tens of thousands (maybe more) retweeted the name and hastag. Mr. Berstein, you won a Pulitzer, your name will go down in history for your Watergate expose, your books and body of work, why do you have to resort to name calling? Please explain. Not the nickname, just the reason for it. Oh, and would you address a group of middle school students as you do this? Please tell them why in an era of Herculean efforts to bring people together and restore some shred of civility to American culture and politics, you chose to do this.

I cringed every time then Candidate Trump took out another Republican candidate by the incessant and juvenile name calling. Low Energy Jeb Bush, Little Marco Rubio, Lyng Ted Cruz, Crooked Hillary, Pocohantas Elizabeth Warren, Sleezy Joe Biden. Name-calling, Mr. President is never justified. Never. We won’t tolerate in our school kids, why should we tolerate it and accept it in adults. As adults we should be examples of how to deal with others without resorting to name calling.

One last example of cyber/media bullying that always dumbfounded me was the explosion of news stories and tweets following Melania Trump’s ascent into Air Force One while wearing a pair of stilettos. It was September 2017, she and the President were going to Texas to see the extensive damage from Hurricane Harvey and she was photographed walking to the plane in a pair of Manolo Blahnik stiletto heels. During the time it took Air Force One to fly from Washington to Texas, pictures and stories about those shoes were everywhere. When she left the plane in Texas she was wearing sneakers but according to one “news” site – “The damage was done” to her character and her reputation. She was branded insensitive for wearing heels on the plane – a jumbo jet specifically outfitted for the President and that could easily carry a spare pair of shoes for the First Lady.

Isn’t it quite possible that she planned to change her shoes on the plane all along? Isn’t it possible that she wore them out of the White House for a reason not disclosed to the media and planned to change them as soon as she could? Isn’t it possible that she had a change of clothing put on the customized 747 ahead of time out of sight from journalists and photographers? How is it that a pair of high heels haunted the First Lady and sadly overshadowed anything else she did that day? Sneakers vs stilletos. Really? Anyone ever change their shoes in the car between events or because of the weather? Or carry their good shoes into the office during a snowy commute?

With a nod to the chant from the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, “The whole world is watching”, I want to say to those politicians, journalist (tv, online, print,) twitter-users, late night tv hosts, any one with a social media footprint or spotlight – “Our children are watching and listening.” Are you deeply invested with those who work to ending bullying and who desperately want to make a difference? Many of these people experienced first hand the devastating affects of bullying on their loved ones. One in five students get bullied, with sixth grade the peak year (29%). Bullied kids experience anxiety, depression, feelings of insecurity and are at risk for self harm including suicide. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for the 10-34 year old demographic.  The second leading cause of death.

We must chose sides on this issue. There is no fence straddling here. You either will tolerate name-calling, personal insults, ridicule and taunts in your home, your schools, your workplace and your community, by your entertainers and entertainment, your politicians and politics and on all forms of media or you won’t. Yes or no.

This is not about censorship of free speech, this is about knowing that a high bar of civility for our words and actions exists and deciding to reach for it. It is about digging deep to build relationships rather than destroy reputations and lives, to understand rather than criticize and by doing such personify what the anti-bully looks like and stands for.

In the spirit of Special Intentions – praying for others – say a prayer today for a sixth grader who is having the worst year of his or her life because of bullying. Pray that someone steps in to help before he or she becomes another suicide statistic.