Andrea LeBlanc’s Speech at the International Conference in Tokyo July 29-31, 2005:
I am very honored to have been invited to participate in this conference and to be among so many people who understand the vital importance of pursuing peace.
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.
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. 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. I joined Peaceful Tomorrows in Dec. 2002.
Very soon after 9-11 the Hibakusha and other Japanese people came to New York City to extend their compassion to us. 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.
I want to tak about something I think is very important. There are very few things in this world that I know to be true. One of them is that violence ALWAYS begets violence.
Another true thing is that we ALWAYS have choices.
I know that I have not always thought that I had a choice. Terrible things happen to us over which we have no control. Tsunamis,earthquakes, famines, floods, and diseases all occur and we cannot stop them. All governments have created wars in which 80% of the casualties are innocent people (women, children and the elderly). No government is guiltlees. As individuals we cannot stop wars either.
Feelings of anger and profound sadness which, like the sun, arise and over which we have no control. But we still do have a choice about what we DO with those feelings. Anger and sadness can both destroy life.
Rather than being angry afetr 9-11, I was in danger of being lost in hopelessness and despair because of the sadness I felt. We can lash out against those peole and forces we think are to blame for our pain or we can be consummed by our pain. Either way the suffering continues. The Hibakusha have chosen to speak to the world about the unthinkable horrors atomic weapons. They know that the people of the world must understand what atomic weapons actually do to people. They know we must never forget what happened on Aug 6 and 9 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They also know that continued blaming for the wrongs we have done to one another will never lead us out of the terrible round of death and destruction that, in fact , threatens to destroy the world.
So, like them, we each have a responsibility and a choice … at every fork in the road … to not only choose to remember what has happened in the past and to understand the causes, but also, and more importantly, to choose to seek a non-violent path in the future.
We must remember that what harms one of us, harms all of us.
We must begin to act as members of the community of humankind rather than like citizens of different nations with different agendas.
We must ask first who pays for and who suffers from whatever decision we make.
We must not be silent.
We must not doubt our ability to open the hearts and minds of people to the fact that we can choose kindness in all things.
And above all we must choose kindness.
Thank you very much.
Andrea N. Leblanc
Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful tomorrows