In the spring of 1994 my brother David called me up and said ?I finally get to go to Africa?. He had been accepted to a summer study program in Zimbabwe. Upon word of this our mother began to worry. She, and others felt it would be too dangerous. There was reason for concern, the political violence there was unlike anything we were used to. Undeterred, David went anyway and loved it? nothing happened to him.
Then, that Fall I was set to attend a similar program in Sri Lanka, and again my mother fretted. I went nonetheless. Although I weathered curfews and the suicide bombing of a politician, my life was never in danger either. Eight months later my father was thrown head-first onto his desk in his law firm in downtown Oklahoma City as the Murrah Federal building was attacked just a couple blocks away. All my mother?s worries of uncivilized violence endangering her sons in continents far away was instead horribly realized way too close to home.
On Sept. 11th such violence hit even closer to home. David was working on the 104th floor of WTC Tower 2 and he called my parents minutes after the first airplane hit Tower 1. He was calm and reassuring. None of us heard from him again, and we identified his body two days later.
David had returned to Africa in 1996 as a Fullbright scholar, and lived in Cape Town, South Africa. He told me he spent the majority of his time there glued to the TV watching live coverage of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission instead of researching his thesis. A couple years later I told him about Bill Moyer?s powerful documentary FACING THE TRUTH which chronicles the commission. David?s eyes teared up and he said, ?Andy, it?s unbelievable how equally painful and healing those hearings are for that country.? His eyes always got wet about South Africa.
My Brother was not a politician, or military expert, but he understood the capacity for humans to be violent and commit heinous crimes. To explain away Sept. 11 as simply pure evil is an affront to him and the thousands who were murdered. He would see the downing of the WTC as not dissimilar from the bombing of a South African disco during Apartheid in the 1980s? both forms of political violence. The idea that the hi-jackers simply hate our way of life and want it destroyed over-simplifies it all.
In the months since David?s death, like thousands of families in our predicament, we?ve celebrated David?s life and have begun the strange and painful process of accepting his death. I keep asking myself what David would think of this event if he could talk to me. My answer to myself is that David would say that sadly we are now part of the human family. He would find it humbling that if he had survived, and had the chance to go back to South Africa again he would not be met with the sharp dichotomy he experienced there before as an American in that land. The days of being from a country so free from the nightmares of places like Rwanda or Bosnia would be over. He and his South African friends would instead experience the unenviable empathy that comes from living amidst unbelievable violence.
I know he would prompt me to stretch the limits of logic and suggest that maybe at some point in the future we, here in this country, can have some sort of reconciling with those that have brought us so much pain. I cannot see it now from where I am, a bitterness and hollowness won?t let me. But I know my brother, and with that twinkle in his eye, he would challenge me, ?Andy, think of how ludicrous the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation commission must have seemed to South Africans in the 1980s… how crazy it would have been to imagine mothers of unjustly slain sons sitting across from their murderers seeking redemption.?
So as a brother representing his fallen brother, I can only wonder if some sort of reconciling can ever happen here. It seems impossible, but of course what happened on Sept. 11th did as well.
Harvard Divinity Bulletin
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