My husband, Alexander Filipov was on flight 11, the first airplane to hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 am on 9/11/01. Al had wanted me to join him, as we often traveled together, but this was to be a short trip because he was flying home on the red-eye on Friday, September 14, to celebrate our 44th wedding anniversary.
I watched from our deck as Al walked to his car on that beautiful September morning; he looked around and swept his arm over the landscape, noting the beauty of the day and all that we had. We waved, blew a kiss and he drove away. That was the last time I saw him.
On that day, September 11, 2001 my life shattered into a million tiny pieces and my heart and soul wept, but the initial shock and horror of my loss was quickly turned to resolve that no other human being should suffer the pain and sorrow that I was suffering. I remember expressing concern that we would go to war because of what had happened. Someone in the room said, “It’s what we do.”
Before September 11, we lived a good life here in Massachusetts. I grew up in Pennsylvania and Al was raised in Ontario, Canada. We lived in Ottawa for a short time after we married. We moved to Massachusetts, raised three sons, became grandparents and shared many happy memories with family and friends. Life, as I had known it, would never be the same.
Al was an engineer by trade, but family and friends knew him as a human rights activist, a painter, an inventor, a story-teller and a gardener. He was a true servant of the church. He cared about people and the power of the individual to make a positive difference in life.
He was a family man who helped our sons with their math homework and taught them to sail and to calculate their location by the positions of the stars. He often told me that his life really began when he met me. He loved life in all its beauty and pain. In his name and dedicated to the life he lived, we established The Al Filipov Peace & Justice Forum in 2002. The forum, held every September, brings speakers to talk on those issues which Al held dear. As I listened to the speaker on that warm September night in 2002, I was reminded of a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” I knew I would not be silent.
I first heard about Peaceful Tomorrows when someone at the forum showed me a picture of a brave woman who went to Afghanistan to witness the damage and killings there, due to the U.S. bombing. The woman was Rita Lasar, who lost her brother in the towers when he chose to wait for help with a co-worker in a wheelchair. I had also heard about the march from Washington, D.C. to New York to protest war as a retaliation to the 9/11 attacks, and knew that I wanted to join with these committed and brave people. Peaceful Tomorrows members Andrew Rice and Terry Rockefeller called and visited me and I joined the group in November, 2002.
There was no need to explain why my voice cracked when I told my story, or why I didn’t think bombing other countries in our loved ones’ names was the answer. We were pretty much the same voice, and I found a home with these family members from across our nation. When Peaceful Tomorrows planned vigils with members and friends all over the world for the 2003 remembrance, I held a similar “Circle of Hope” in my town.
When David Potorti called and asked if I would speak at the Boston University Bookstore on behalf of our book, I hesitated only briefly and while this was a new experience for me, I knew I could not be silent. Those of us who participated in Stonewalk 2004 developed more speaking experience at our impromptu events along the route from Boston to New York. For me, this led to the Peaceful Tomorrows speakers bureau and other speaking events: in Rome, Italy at the European Parliament forum on September 10, 2004 and at the Barcelona Forum in Spain a speaking event on October 8, 2005, the anniversary of the first woman receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. For me this was a very different life than I had ever imagined. We were not silent and we were making a difference.
I traveled to Oklahoma City for the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in April, 2005 and with others participated in the Peaceful Tomorrows video, “Beyond Retribution.” I have spoken about Peaceful Tomorrows in the New England area and in Ontario, Canada, at rallies, at Rotary Club meetings, at events with very few people and with crowds, always knowing that my words and our words would help stop the madness that was prevailing in the country. The drums of war kept on beating and members of Peaceful Tomorrows kept on speaking.
A very new experience for me was lobbying in Washington, D.C. I walked the halls of Congress with Adele Welty, Talat Hamdani, Terry Rockefeller and Colleen Kelly, who never were intimidated by the power of those mighty halls or the people we met. We participated with the American Friend Service Committee in the “Eyes Wide Open” campaign. In September, 2006 thirty people from 17 nations directly affected by terrorism, violence and war joined members of Peaceful Tomorrows in “Civilian Casualties, Civilian Solutions,” an international conference to create an ongoing network dedicated to healing and reconciliation and genuine peace.
I have humbly served on the steering committee of Peaceful Tomorrows as a member and chair and continue in the role of membership coordinator. I have received joy, knowledge and the fruits of labor from everyone that I have met and worked with— everyone who has dedicated his or her life for peace. I have received far more than I have given and feel a debt to this organization for the awareness that I have developed. The stories of The Forgiveness Project uplift me— people like Fr. Michael Lapsley, Fr. Romain Ruringaraw and Phyllis and Orlando Rodriguez, to name a few. All of them have suffered grave losses and turned their grief into action for Peace. This is the message of Peaceful Tomorrows.
I still live in our house in Massachusetts and I like to tell my grandchildren stories about their grandfather. They also want to hear the stories of grandma going to Washington. We talk about voting, and choices, and the sameness and differences of people all over the world. My hope is that they and the children all over the world will enjoy more peaceful tomorrows.
At our International Conference, I read the poem, “Wage Peace”, by Judyth Hill. I have chosen this excerpt, which defines me as I am now:
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers,
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in 3 languages.
Learn to knit and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
As the outbreath of beauty
Or the gesture of fish
Swim for the other side.
……….Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
From Wage Peace by Judyth Hill, September 11, 2001