The meaning of the image on the TV screen was clear to me as I watched footage of giant aircraft explode against the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. A war had been declared.
Much less clear, just last month in August 2021, was the meaning behind videos of people clinging to (and falling from) a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport aircraft flying out of Kabul, Afghanistan, after 20 years of roadside bombings, drone killings, and to-the-death firefights.
From the moment terrorist hijackers convinced themselves their deadly plot was a good, courageous, and even holy undertaking, the possibility of anyone claiming victory in the long inevitable conflict to follow was destroyed. Just like the WTC Twin Towers themselves.
The U.S., a decade later, would be able to claim a retaliatory victory with the killing of Osama bin Laden. We would also be able to claim a humanitarian triumph (to some extent) with renewed international diplomatic support of Afghanistan’s government, advances in education for Afghan girls and business opportunities for women, and improvements in the country’s public infrastructure.
The Taliban, upon the U.S.’s not-so-graceful departure, could say it had outwaited a superpower and like the most innocent of Davids had brought Goliath crashing facedown to the ground. What they cannot, however, refute is the overwhelming evidence of the rejection of their presence in Kabul by an entire generation of Afghans grown accustomed to a way of life vastly different from what the Taliban envisions for them.
There are no winners in these betrayals of human dignity and spiritual integrity. There is toxic sorrow choking on memories of something sweeter and simpler. And there is hope flickering like the smallest of flashlights inside columns of ash and smoke.
From Reflecting to Responding
While I count myself among the world’s most ardent lovers of poetry, I knew once the coma-like numbness caused by the brutal reality of 9/11 wore off, I would need to do a lot more than write poems about it. But poems were a good way to start, and eventually Angel of Remembrance Candles for September 11 2001 became one of the most quoted on the subject. Essays like Reading Rumi After 9/11 would also become important.
Six years after the attacks, I joined online with others across the globe to transform healing reflections into restorative actions by launching the Creative Thinkers International community. The idea behind CTI was fairly simple:
“…Creative Thinkers International was founded as a response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. As such, its purpose has been to ‘inspire creative responses’ to the challenges of social and political diplomacy and to increase cross-cultural interaction spawned by globalization. Its logo was derived from an original image by artist Denise Elliot-Vernon.”
In addition to the music videos, stories, and photography regularly posted by members, the site also featured a United Nations RSS feed and supported such annual U.N.-sponsored observations as:
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.