This speech, written by Andrea LeBlanc, was delivered at the Nipponzan Myohoji Temple & Peace Pagoda near London, England.
I am pleased to be with you, at least in spirit, on this 4th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy in which over 3,000 civilians died because of an inability of people to see one another as the "same" rather than "other".
On Sept. 11, 2001 my husband, Robert LeBlanc, was killed on the second plane that was flown into the World Trade Center. At that moment my life was broken into a million pieces and it is taking a very long time to learn how to make sense of life again.
Bob, my husband, 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. London, however, was an exception, because it was one place he returned to many times. As a young man he was stationed near London while in the US Air Force and returned to London to attend university. Our family lived in Cambridge during a sabbatical year in 1983-84, thereby instilling in us the same wanderlust. He last renewed his love of London in March 2001, when he again did what he so often had done …. each day he would go to the end of a different underground line and WALK back through the various neighborhoods to the center of the city, often to attend a concert in a cathedral somewhere. 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 and 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 absolutely believed that trying to know and better understand people in this way makes our common humanity undeniable.
At my husband’s memorial service a 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.
On Sept. 11 I knew our government would retaliate and I felt I had been handed a responsibility to somehow speak out against the fact that 9-11 was being used as an excuse for more pain and violence. As my daughter said at Bob’s memorial service on Sept. 21, 2001, "I KNOW my Dad would not want another person to die for what happened." I was very proud of her and I know Bob would have been too. I did not know at that time that other 9-11 family members were saying the same thing.
September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is a group of 9-11 family members who have chosen to turn their grief into action for peace. The name derives from a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.,"Wars make poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows." I joined Peaceful Tomorrows in Dec. 2002 and it has given me the opportunity to join the world community of peace seekers.
Immediately after 9-11 a group of Hibakusha , the survivors of the A-bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and other Japanese people came to New York City to extend their compassion to us, because they KNEW our pain. Their kindness and their commitment to finding peaceful solutions to the problems of the world’s people have been an inspiration to us. The bond between the Hibakusha and ourselves is strong and important. We are fellow travelers on an uncertain road, but we lend one another strength and hope.
This past summer I had the amazing experience with fellow members of Peaceful Tomorrows and the Peace Abbey, in Sherborn, Massachusett, and hundreds of Japanese people to be a part of a pilgrimage called Stonewalk Japan. We pulled a granite memorial stone mounted on a caisson, together weighing 2 tons, 600 km. from Nagasaki to Hiroshima. The Stone will stay in the Memorial Cathedral for World Peace in Hiroshima until , perhaps, it will continue on its way taking its message to another place and another people needing understanding, like Korea. The Stone commemorates all civilians killed in war and as a result of terrorism. In 1999 a different Stone was pulled from Belfast to Dublin, Ireland. And in 2000, that same Stone was pulled from Liverpool to Coventry where it still rests in Coventry Cathedral. Being a part of Stonewalk is like being in the current of a great river of peace. People came and went and came back again. It did not matter that we often could not speak the same language, we still understood one another. We felt a calm and a joyousness despite our sober mission, because together we carried hope along with the sorrow.
The news on July 7th of the bombings in London brought back to me the vivid memories of the morning on Sept. 11 when I watched the plane my husband was on crash into the World Trade Center. I felt the same initial numbness. I KNEW the pain of the victim