On Sept. 11, 2001 my husband, Robert LeBlanc, was killed on the second plane that was flown into the World Trade Center. Added to the numbing reality of shattering loss was the sure knowledge that our government would retaliate and countless other innocent lives would also be shattered … and I could do nothing to stop it.
Bob taught Cultural Geography at the University of New Hampshire for 35 years. He was an obsessive traveler and was always planning the next four or five trips to places he had never been, but was eager to experience.
Bob believed that it is important to go to the places where people live their daily lives, to speak with them, walk in the marketplaces, taste the food, smell the smells, hear the music, stand in the holy places, and try to understand the problems people struggle with and the joys they celebrate. He believed, and I believe, that trying to know and better understand people in this way makes our common humanity undeniable.
At his memorial service on Sept. 21, 2001, our daughter said “I know my Dad would not want another person to be harmed for what happened.” She had listened and learned well in her young life. Bob’s colleague and friend read a quote from the Quran which said in essence, “I have created you man and woman, tribes and nations, not that you may hate one other, but that you may know one another.”
Bob spent his life trying to understand people. He delighted in the differences he found in the world. He did not judge or condemn. He would have been the person we, his family and friends, students and colleagues, sought out to help us understand why people would be compelled to commit such horrendous acts as the attacks on 9/11. He would have known. And so without him we found ourselves even more bewildered and bereft.
There are very few things in this world that I know to be absolutely true. One of them is that violence always begets violence. Another true thing is that we always have choices.
I have not always thought that I had a choice. Terrible things happen to us over which we have no control. Feelings of anger and profound sadness which, like the sun, rise and over which we also have no control. But we still do have a choice about what we do with those feelings.
Rather than being angry after 9/11, I was in grave danger of being lost in hopelessness and despair because of the sadness and helplessness I felt. We can lash out against those people and forces we think are to blame for our pain or we can be consumed by our pain. Either way the suffering continues. Anger and despair can both destroy life. But we can choose not to let either destroy the life we have before us.
We have a choice, and I believe a responsibility… at every turn and fork in the road… to not only choose to remember what has happened in the past and to try to understand the causes, but also, and more importantly, a responsibility to choose to seek a nonviolent way to respond… to choose life.
On Sept. 11, I not only knew our government would retaliate, but I also knew I had been handed a responsibility to do something, to somehow act, to speak out against the fact that 9/11 was being used as an excuse to cause more pain and violence. It was a lonely and difficult time. I did not know at that time that other 9/11 family members were saying the same thing.
Then I began to hear that some 9/11 family members were speaking out against the violence that had been brought down upon the people of Afghanistan and that some had gone to meet Afghans whose family members had died and whose lives had been reduced to rubble by our bombs. I was so profoundly grateful for the actions, the compassion and wisdom, of these strangers.
Finally, in January, 2003 I heard about September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows through a friend. I went to meet them in NYC where they had gathered to welcome home the four members returning from Iraq, where they had gone to put a human face on the Iraqi people as war loomed. We then joined the hundreds of thousands in Washington, DC hoping to avert the war on Iraq in a march that felt to me like being in a river of peace.
I joined Peaceful Tomorrows, and I remember clearly the relief, the profound gratitude, I felt to be among people who shared my convictions and who were open and welcoming. Having been stranded on what felt like a precipice overlooking a shoreless sea, I had found a lifeboat and offered a place aboard.
Since that time, I have realized that there is a vast global community of wise and compassionate people who all understand the wisdom and power of nonviolence. I believe that the stories of these peacemakers must be told and told again until they become as ubiquitous as all the stories of hatred and violence and war. I belong to that community and I want to tell their stories.
Andrea LeBlanc lost her husband, Robert G. LeBlanc, Professor Emeritus of Geography, on UA#175 when it was flown into the second WTC tower. Together Bob and Andrea parented 5 children and have nine grandchildren. Andrea is a retired veterinarian, having practiced small animal medicine and surgery for 37 years.
The family created the Robert G. LeBlanc Memorial Scholarship at the University of New Hampshire which is awarded to undergraduate students for study abroad.