Hope Happens-words of encourage-ment-Moving beyond 9/11

Posted on 11-09-2011 , by: fusion , in , 0 Comments

Will we ever forget where we were 9/11? I was at the World Airline Entertainment Conference in Brisbane, addressing 1600 delegates. Topic: We Can’t Always Control Change-only our attitude towards it.

We may have been working on a project or working out in the gym; taking stock or taking the children to school; hanging out the laundry or hanging out with friends. And, we wondered while doing these once normal things-if our lives would ever be normal again-at least the ‘normal’ we thought we knew? Whatever we were doing and wherever we were doing it, most of the world’s population came to a stunned, disbelieving standstill when passenger jets became terrorist weapons and two towering New York skyscrapers crumbled before our eyes. I’d been to the top of those towers and could barely comprehend that thousands of people, going about their daily lives, died- as millions of us watched helplessly.

This may not have been the first tragedy we witnessed in our lifetime. Sadly, it won’t be the last. Images of the New York devastation remain on our TV screens and are indelible in our memories. No less are the tragedies, before and since, involving innocent civilians in so many other parts of the globe.

Only hours before the 9/11 tragedy, I spoke to 1600 delegates, mostly American and European, of the World Airline Entertainment Association in Brisbane, Australia-on the subject that we can’t always control change-but we still always have control our attitude about how we react to change.

The terrorist attacks affected us all in various ways, from the personal to the economic, yet ultimately; it’s the personal ‘mini’ tragedies in life that cause us the greatest grief. Returning from Brisbane airport the next day, a friend phoned to say her mother had died of cancer. Certainly, she shared compassion with thousands of strangers on the other side of the world, but the loss of one life weighed far heavier on her mind. To her, this was more than a media cliché about the world changing – the world always changes – but her own life had tumbled and changed irrevocably with the death of the one person who had always been central in her world.

Her mother’s death wasn’t reported in the front pages around then world-only the obituary column of some local paper-and she was asking me for answers. I had none-but shared with her what I reminded myself of – time and time again after my own biggest tragedy: the loss of my parents. We can’t always control change but we can always control our attitude toward it. We can choose to look backward or forward.

People often asked how I coped at 21 when my parents died. What was the choice? Cope or crumble? I had no intention of crumbling. Sure, there were many days of despair and one can only have courage if one catches some glimmer of hope on the horizon. At the time of my greatest personal loss, little did I realize that the biggest obstacle of my life would, in time, become my biggest opportunity. I suggested my friend look to the future – to make every moment count – because today was still the first day of the rest of her life.

I knew this could be misconstrued as simply another cliché. I knew it was easier said than done. And, I knew all too well, that my well-meaning words seemed hollow in her deepest despair. Later that day, I was on my way to speak at a conference, in no frame of mind to do so and with no idea what I would say. A professional speaker, I found myself lost for words. I could barely comfort myself so how could I expect to motivate others? The New York tragedy had eclipsed all token words of motivation whatsoever. I stopped for petrol in Sydney, and overhearing my North American inflection; an elderly gentleman gently touched me on the arm and stammered, ‘I’m sorry’. His heavy accent was European but his kind gesture resonated with universal eloquence. Something happened at that moment. The stranger at the petrol pump helped me find the words for my presentation.

A few days later, Ansett collapsed, as did most of my conference business. And, the ticket I’d booked to New York to launch my Australian book on customer service went up in smoke-as I was traveling on my Ansett frequent flier points. And, New York certainly had higher priorities than customer service at the time.

Although admittedly despondent, I realized my ‘misfortunes’ were minor and that we must think not just of service to our customers, but also to our families, our communities, our country and our planet. We must view quality not as some buzzword but as the quality of life we’ve come to enjoy and take for granted in the free societies in which we live. We can no longer assume that quality of life will remain forever, but each of us can do whatever we can to live this day, this week, this year… the best way we are able.

Yes, s..t happens-but I also realised that ‘Hope Happens’, which prompted me to start writing a book of the same title. Because in times of deep despair, when we’ve lost a loved one, lost our health or lost our wealth, it’s important to never lose hope. However hard, we must get on with getting on, and make more of an effort to get on better with others. Regardless of skin color and culture, we must remember we’re all still part of the human race.

Six months later, I finally got to New York City, and handed out some copies of ‘Hope Happens’ to emergency relief workers at Ground Zero-and even received a lovely letter from mayor Michael Bloomberg. It still seems so unbelievable, as total strangers embraced me. (and no this isn’t a plug for the book as royalties go to the NSW Cancer Council)

As John Lennon once said…’Life is what happens when we’re making other plans.’ Still, we need to keep our plans and dreams alive and not be swamped by nightmares of despair. What practical things can we do in this regard? Take a little time out of your busy day. Switch off the bad news on TV to recreate a better vision for your own inner reality. Here are some thought starters:

  • Take 60 seconds each night to be grateful for what you do have – not what you don’t have. In my own case, I give thanks for such things as clean sheets, a hot shower, a full tummy, good friends and freedom of speech. I am also grateful for everything I’ve never had –like a brain tumor, abusive partner, or political persecution.
  • Determine what gives you joy and schedule time for yourself on your ‘to do’ list.
  • Think of someone less fortunate than you and do something to help them – even an encouraging word will do.
  • Smile at a stranger in the street. And smile at yourself in the mirror every morning –making sure it’s not a stranger who smiles back. One of my ‘missions’ on my daily, morning walks has been to get at least six strangers to smile. Remember how good you feel when someone smiles at you, and you in turn have the opportunity to brighten someone else’s day, even if but for a fleeting second?
  • Focus on what you can do and don’t waste energy on what you can’t.
  • If you had only one call to make, who would you call and what would you say? What’s stopping you from calling today? Tell someone you love them, or thank someone who has made a difference in your life.

Will we ever make sense of the senseless? Will we ever overcome that sense of loss? As individuals, we may not have the answers to global peace but we can achieve greater inner peace by fully appreciating the little joys of everyday life more than ever before and be a little kinder to each other along the way, as we turn stumbling blocks into stepping-stones. Whether it be solitary meditation or prayer, let’s connect our heads and hearts to try and find some solace in sadness. Carpe Diem

Pain of 9/11 or personal tragedy will never disappear completely. It is no greater or less for anonymous people losing jobs or loved ones, their wealth, their health. We’re all everyday people with everyday problems in this journey called life. It’s a continual exercise in learning. Belief in yourself is like a muscle. It is strengthened by constant and careful use and there’s no time like the present to flex your resolve, remember the past but look to the future and…Move on- from disbelief in others-to a stronger belief in ourselves.


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