Lee widow promotes peace after losing husband on Sept. 11

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LEE — Those affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks don’t need help remembering.

Whether it be five, 10 or even 15 years from that fateful day, Andrea Leblanc will never struggle with the memory of an event that killed her husband Robert and forever changed her way of thinking.

The Lee resident said for her, it’s not about making sure to remember 9/11.

“To me,” she said, “it’s more troubling what we’ve forgotten. We’ve forgotten the principles this country was founded on.”

Robert was killed on board United Flight 175, which was hijacked and crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center en route from Boston to Los Angeles, Calif.

He was a husband, father and professor of geography at the University of New Hampshire. He was also an inspiration, and his personality and quest for knowledge is something that Andrea said has kept her going in the years following his death.

“He was insatiably curious about other people,” she said. “He delighted in the differences he found in the world. Speaking with him was always like opening windows. On 9/11, it was really like all the windows were slamming shut.”

In the face of those closures, however, Andrea found light. She discovered September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, a group created in 2002 that is dedicated to promoting nonviolence and turning grief into action for peace. Its founders had taken a trip to Afghanistan to meet with the families of Afghans who had been killed by U.S. bombs, and Andrea said she was grateful someone took the initiative to make that trip.

She participated with the group in a peaceful march in Washington, D.C., in hopes of preventing going to war with Iraq and has been involved ever since.

“I really feel like I’ve been given this great gift of finding a community of like-minded people,” she said. “I didn’t have to make excuses. I didn’t have to explain why I thought what I thought.”

Their message has given her hope that someday, things will change. Andrea sees a future where people realize it’s possible to have another way to deal with conflict besides war.

“One of the outcomes of 9/11 is we need to make the decision about what kind of society we want to be,” she said. “What do we want to teach our kids? The story isn’t about the fact that for 10 years I’ve been a widow. It’s about the real cost of 9/11. I think this country squandered its moral authority. To me, it’s all about peace; what societies are doing to either move toward or away from conflict.”

Stories of nonviolence would have to become ubiquitous with stories on war and terror, she said. The country would need to look at what led up to 9/11 and what the true consequences have been.

Andrea said the fact the U.S. has become involved in several wars since 9/11 is even more reason to keep speaking out.

“It’s amazing to me how little conversation there is about the connection between the budget crisis and military spending,” she said. “The American public has been I guess convinced we need to do this for security, but if it comes at the cost of our humanity … I live in a safe place. I’m not worried about missiles coming through my windows at night or checkpoints. For many people in the world, that doesn’t exist. There (are) 9/11s in the world every day, and to some degree, we’re responsible for it. If we had spent this money on things supportive of life rather than destructive, I don’t think we’d have young people so hopeless and disenfranchised that they’d be joining terrorist forces.”

An eye opening thing for Andrea through her involvement with September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is the people all over the world who are reaching across borders to converse and share with other cultures. She noted the numerous women’s networks in Afghanistan and youth networks that reach out via Skype to hold conferences with other youths to talk about love and understanding. The groups and organizations dedicated to forming unity and speaking out in the wake of 9/11 are not in short supply, and demonstrate each day there is a compassion across borders that breaches even the deadliest of wars.

“It’s about listening,” she said. “Ignorance is an obstacle. So much of our decisions and conclusions have to do with who has the power. Conflict is inevitable. We’ve got to have the tools to be able to deal with it. War is no solution. There’s a middle way. Non-violent solutions are more effective and more likely to have a positive outcome.”

With the role Andrea has taken on since her husband’s death, one of her biggest concerns is what children growing up in the shadow of 9/11 learn about the event. She has pushed for books about peace and other cultures in which the U.S. is involved in conflict be prominently placed in bookstores and libraries to counter those about terror and war. She promotes educating children to ask questions and seek the truth.

She repeats a quote she once heard that has stuck with her: “Be curious before being afraid.”

Andrea’s heard hesitation with regard to discussing or bringing attention to 9/11 because some are worried bringing back all the events of that day will be too painful to those directly affected such as herself. But what she stresses now is it’s part of her life. Why remember after five years or 10 years, she questions. It’s something that is with her every day.

“It’s not something you get past or find closure with,” she said. “You absorb it. You become part of it. You learn to, in some way, live with it. For me, it was a clear decision whether I was going to allow my despair of the human race to consume my life. But anger or sadness can consume a life. We don’t have a choice in those emotions, but we have a choice in what we can do with them.”

She quotes Martin Luther King, Jr., repeating the words on which the principles of the group was founded: “Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”

Visit http://www.peacefultomorrows.org/

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September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is a project of Tides Center.

 
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