Saturday, September 11, 2010

I remember

9/11/01 was the last morning I just listened to the radio in the morning while getting ready to go to work. That morning, I was going into work late because I had to take my car in to get payment for repairs arranged after I had been re-ended in my new car. I always just had the radio on as part of my alarm clock, and it would turn off an hour after my alarm. The radio had turned off before I left for the insurance office.

When I arrived at the insurance office, the agent I was dealing with (the agent for the guy who rear-ended me) asked if I had been watching or listening to the news. I told him no, and he informed me that a jet had hit the World Trade Center. At first, I thought small jet, not commercial airliner. While he was looking at the damage on my car, the Pentagon had been hit. I immediately thought Bin Laden. I went home before going into the office. I called in to see if they knew yet - yes, they did. I had turned the TV on when I got home, and I watched as the first tower collapsed. I knew that about 50,000 people worked in the towers, and I anticipated a death toll far more horrifying than it was, although nearly 3000 dead is horrifying enough.

At the time, I was part of a small church group at my parish in Fayetteville, and we had our regular weekly meeting that night. Instead of what we originally had scheduled, we went into the church and prayed the Rosary.

Since that day, I am even more of a news-junkie than I was before. I kept the TV on all the time when I was home, even overnight, watching nothing but news for days on end. I kept hoping for survivors. To this day, I often sleep with the TV on FoxNews channel.

Sadly, the deaths resulting from that attack didn't all occur on that day, or as a result of physical injuries received that day. Another friend of mine has a boyfriend who had a brother who had recently moved to Virginia and worked at the Pentagon. Stephen was a helicopter pilot. He had been part off Dust-Off during the Vietnam War. I'm not sure what Dust-Off was - I'd have to do a bit of research. Anyway, Stephen was at the Pentagon that day. Apparently, he was often in the part of the building that was hit and he lost people he knew. I'm not sure, but I think he was involved in either rescuing or dealing with the people who were pulled from the building that first day. Stephen later commited suicide. My friend and I surmised that what Stephen saw that day brought back the traumatic memories of the Vietnam War, and did not seek help in dealing with what he was going through. Stephen in buried at Arlington National Cemetry. My friend accompanied her boyfriend to the funeral. Stephen's wife moved away from there - I think she had been home when Stephen killed himself there. I happened to have a business trip to DC in May 2003, after Stephen's funeral over the winter. I was able to find Stephen's grave and photograph the headstone, since it was not in place yet at the time of the funeral. I'm sure Stephen's wife was still visiting - there were small stones placed on the top of the headstone. I don't remember the significance of that gesture.

We will never know the true toll of people whose lives will end as a direct result of the attacks. I'm sure Stephen's was not the only suicide of a survivor or a family member of those killed, and there are also those who are now getting sick and dying from illnesses connected to working at Ground Zero....

This was originally posted in May 2006 on a blog that is no longer active on the internet.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Restoring Honor - 8/28 in DC

When I explained to my sister that I was going to the 8/28 “Restoring Honor” rally hosted by Glenn Beck in Washington DC, it was difficult to explain that I didn’t actually know what was going to happen. I had spent a great deal of money on plane tickets and a hotel (within walking distance of the Lincoln Memorial), and yet I could only guess at what would happen. This is the same leap of faith made by hundreds of thousands of Americans from all over the country.

Glenn Beck opens his daily radio show with the words “this is the third most listened to show in the country.” This sentence embodies the phenomenon of Glenn Beck. Recently voted the “Number One Most Hated Conservative” in the country, Glenn Beck is a controversial figure, even among conservatives. Yet his fans are un-swayed by his detractors and negative press.

A recovered alcoholic and drug addict, Beck completely changed his life in the past ten years. He readily admits that he was a “dirtbag” before he became sober. On his radio show he often discusses one of his biggest regrets is the loss of his word - of his integrity: “I lost trust once in my life. When I was drinking… I lost my word because nobody could trust me because I was living a lie. I was an alcoholic…The one thing I promised myself is if you give me a second chance, Lord, I won't do that again. I promise you, I will not lie. I won't cheat, I won't steal, I won't do it. He's given me a second chance. I'm not going to violate that.”

A devout Mormon, Beck is unabashedly unafraid to openly discuss God on his radio and television programs. Going against a research study conducted by his own company (which advised him against it for ratings purposes) he has spent a good portion of 2010 urging Americans to get “down on [their] knees and pray.” He has also dedicated a good portion of this year to re-educating Americans on the actions, principles and religious beliefs of the founders of our country. “Founder’s Fridays” on his television show have concentrated on many important figures surrounding the American Revolution, including two specials on African-American founders who have been all but erased from our history books. Online, he has begun “Beck University”, with lectures given by different academics that underscore his main theme: “Faith, hope and charity.” These three ideas were also the main focus of the Restoring Honor rally. Not politics, but something beyond politics – something deeper, that people from all walks of life and political persuasions could relate to.

The rally had been planned almost a year in advance and was originally intended to be a political event. However, immediately after announcing it, Beck felt that he was going in the wrong direction. Through the following months, his listeners began to get an idea of what they could expect, as he continually discussed the ideas of faith, hope and charity. There were still no details other than Beck’s request that political signs should be left home – that this would be a day to talk about honor, integrity, character and faith.

Naturally there was a lot of controversy about the rally, especially since 8/28 was the forty-seventh anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech in the same location. Originally, Glenn wanted to hold the rally on 9/12 (after the 9/12 Project, which he founded), but that is a Sunday this year, and he did not want to ask people to take part in this event on the Sabbath. The only other day that worked for all involved was 8/28. It wasn’t until after the event was announced, that the NY Times discussed the importance of that particular date. At first nervous, Glenn decided that there are no coincidences, and that this was indeed the right date for this gathering: “Whites don't own Abraham Lincoln. Blacks don't own Martin Luther King. Those are American icons, American ideas. And we should just talk about character and that's what this event is about. It's about honoring character.”

As the weeks and months led up to the rally, Glenn continually discussed the importance of character and of faith in our country. He maintained that our country’s ills cannot be solved by politics, but by a return to the values that our country was founded on. He reminded us that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights by our Creator; that our rights are God-given and not granted by any man or woman. His passion was and is undeniable, and his listeners responded by taking the Forty Days and Forty Nights Pledge: “I will pray on my knees every night for the next 40 nights...starting TONIGHT. Pray for guidance, inspiration, peace...pray for the leaders of our country. Pray for their safety, and that they will receive wisdom. I will re-establish my relationship with God.” He made it clear that listeners needed to follow their religious beliefs, whether they be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or another faith. He urged listeners to figure out what they actually believe and to pray, pray, pray.

One thing we did know going into this event was that we would be honoring our military, the last group in the US that Americans still trust in great numbers. We knew we would hear Sarah Palin, another controversial figure, speaking to us as a mother of soldier. We knew we would hear Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, speak about her uncle’s dream of equal rights for everyone, about God and our great country. And we knew we would hear Glenn talk about the importance of Faith, Hope and Charity.

One of many t-shirts on display.

Arriving at 5:30 in the wee hours of the morning, my husband and I arrived to an already massive crowd. Thanks to the kindness of a group of people, we were able to squeeze in fairly closely to the stage. We spent time visiting with the people around us, talking about politics and about God. One woman near us had attended the event “America’s Divine Destiny” the night before at the Kennedy Center, which brought religious leaders from many different faiths together to deliver an inspiring evening of prayer, music and worship. She was exhausted, but ecstatic to be a part of the rally.

As I looked around me at the masses of humanity, I saw that people had trusted Glenn. He told us to leave our signs home, and we did. He said “bring your families” and we did. My husband and I were surrounded by people of all ages, races and faiths. A common theme was patriotic and religious t-shirts, but not a sign in sight. As we waited for the rally to begin, I made the rounds of the mall. With a new friend, I pushed through the happy, polite crowd and saw the same thing wherever I looked – people smiling and excited to be standing together in such a sacred place.

At 10AM the patient crowd was finally rewarded, and the rally began. Although we did not know entirely what to expect, we were not disappointed. We stood together and honored our military. Glenn emotionally spoke of how his listeners had contributed over 5 million dollars to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. The bulk of the contributions were less than $100 each – most coming in at $10 increments. Charity indeed.

As the rally progressed, three outstanding veterans were commended for their great honor and integrity in action. Non-military outstanding citizens were also honored with awards for “Faith”, “Hope” and “Charity”. Following these awards, Dr. Alveda King, niece of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stepped forward to thunderous applause to deliver a speech echoing her uncle’s. And finally, in the last hour, Glenn delivered his speech. While it is impossible to give due justice to Glenn’s words in a short column, but a short survey can share some of his basic thoughts.

He spoke of the power of the individual and of the need for each person to stand for what we believe in: “I testify to you here and now. One man can change the world. And I share with you an equal testimony. That man or woman is you. You make the difference. Do not stand and look to someone else. Look to yourself. Pick up your stick and stand (in reference to an earlier comment about Moses).” He went on to encourage people to look inward with honesty and work to better themselves: “We must be better than what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We must get the poison of hatred out of us. No matter what anyone may say or do…we must look to God and look to love. We must defend those that we disagree with, but are honest and have integrity.” He reminded us of the words of the Gandhi, who told us to “become the change you want to see.”

Throughout his speech, he reminded the audience to hold true to the ideals of faith, hope and charity. For faith he advised people to figure out what they believe in and then believe! “Pray on your knees with the door open for your children to see. Not only pray with them, but let them see their father or their mother humbled by God in prayer. That which they gaze upon, they will become.”

On his show he has long held that you cannot hope without knowing the truth. He exhorted his audience to tell the truth – to be truthful in every aspect of your life. Get rid of the lies; the big ones and the small ones. “Tell the truth in your own life and then expect it from others.”
And finally; charity. The old adage says charity begins at home, and in the months leading up to the rally, Glenn had asked his listeners to give extra time and attention to their families. During and after the rally he also urged people to give ten percent to their churches, synagogues, temples and mosques. Give ten percent to worthy charities. Give ten percent and feel the great blessing of giving. He has often said that it is his honor and privilege to tithe ten percent, and he encouraged the crowd to do the same.

And so we stood for over an hour and listened and wept and cheered. And those who trusted Glenn Beck were not disappointed. And we were not surprised at anything we heard. Glenn did not say anything that we had not heard from him many times before. What was really important was the fact that we came and stood together to hear him and his guests speak these things. We affirmed our belief in a country that was founded on divine providence. We affirmed our belief and devotion in our loving heavenly Father. As two hundred and forty leaders of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths (representative of many more throughout the United States) came together to reform the “Black Robed Regiment”, we agreed that denomination doesn’t matter. We agreed that we must set aside our individual theological differences and stand together, using God as our shield.

As we finish up the first week following this amazing event, we are seeing its effects on our great nation in our media. Crowd numbers are being debated (one news commentator likened it to “typical foot traffic” for the area), with numbers from 87,000 being a lowball guess, and upwards of 500,000 probably being closer. Judge for yourself!!

This is an aerial photo showing the crowd that stretched 8/10ths of a mile from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument.

Crowd closeup taken from someone sitting at the Washington Monument – almost a mile away from the stage.

The message is also being exhaustively discussed. People on the left just aren't sure what to make of it, and since everyone left their signs at home, they can't latch onto one nut-job with a hateful sign. In fact, the only signs I saw were after the rally, with a few dissenters who apparently showed up late. The crowd looked at them and just walked by!

Labor leaders, liberal religious leaders and the NAACP will be holding a “counter-rally” on 10/2/10. Advertisements for the event assure people that they are “fueled by hope and note hate.” For the hundreds of thousands of attended, and for those who watched it live on C-SPAN and Facebook, it doesn’t really matter. We know what we heard and experienced. It was Faith, Hope and Charity. We stood there and looked around us at the vast crowd and we knew, without a doubt, that these people all agreed with the inscription on the very top of the Washington Monument. Laos Deo. Praise be to God.

It was an honor to be there. South Park Diva.

Showing my patriotism as only a diva can...