Most days are a blur of motion and activity, beginning with the abrupt buzz of an alarm clock at 7 a.m. and not stopping until I collapse in bed, exhausted, at around 1 a.m. Rarely is there a break in the action, a chance to take a deep breath and reflect, or an opportunity to just be - life's pace is too fast and too full.
A year ago, though, the perpetual blur came to a halt, if only temporarily. While the Earth still turned on its axis and continued its solar revolution, my world slowed to a crawl on September 11, 2001, as I sat stunned in my small dorm room in front of my roommate's 13-inch television. My eyes could barely comprehend the scenes of destruction, bravery and horror that unfolded in the eastern United States.
My mind flooded with questions. How would the nation respond? How would the spouses, children and parents of the perished continue with their lives? How would President Bush - hardly tested as the nation's leader - balance recovery and retaliation? I prayed for peace, for caution, for reason. I prayed for my countrymen, for my leaders, for those trapped in collapsing buildings, even for my closest friends and families.
Since the terrible slowness of that day, I have watched as the United States has risen above its challenges, answering my questions with firmness and determination, surviving, and even flourishing in the face of a devastating catastrophe. I have read accounts of wives who lost their spouses and I have been amazed at their tenacity and resolve to continue with their lives.
As a nation, we have become stronger, more vibrant, and more unified.
I am proud that, as a whole, Americans have been more concerned with rising above challenges and rebuilding an injured nation than in brutal retaliation. I believe that peace reigns in the hearts of most Americans, and that revenge is relegated to the back corners of darker minds. To me, the integrity and strength common Americans have shown in the past year is enough to eliminate any hunger for violent revenge. We have already won any war that was begun September 11, and our worlds, while temporarily suspended, have mostly returned to normal, a testament to determination and belief in each other, in the nation as a whole, and in higher powers.
I cannot help but notice parallels between September 11 and what I see every day at the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.
On one day, America was disabled - paralyzed even - by terrorist attacks. The country was dealt a hand it did not ask for or want. It faced a challenge it did not know how to overcome. But yet it did overcome, and it did flourish in the face of adversity, and its near defeat has made the nation even stronger than it previously was.
In the same way, people with disabilities, whether it's blindness, deafness, mobility or learning disabilities, face a great challenge they didn't ask for. Like America post-September 11, people with disabilities face the choice of giving up, becoming angry, or rising above the disability and reaching for success. Like America, most choose the latter option and fight to succeed in a world that doesn't always cooperate or make it easy.
Just as I have been encouraged, touched and surprised by our nation's eagerness to meet the trials facing it, so I have been heartened by the people who daily interact with RCPD. Just as my eyes moistened and my throat still tightens as I read magazine accounts of WTC survivors, I choke up when hearing some of the stories of people with disabilities.
I believe the events of September 11 have paradoxically made America a better place, and that holds true for many people with disabilities. Rather than being discouraged and giving up when faced with challenges, many people with disabilities are actually made stronger and better as they rise above the circumstances and reach for opportunities.
While cleanup efforts at Ground Zero have mostly wrapped up, the work at RCPD is still in full swing. Support structures are in the building process. The evidence of this is all around: Look at the Persons with Disabilities Empowerment Fund, which is has rapidly grown from early development stages and will soon begin providing new opportunities for students and employees with disabilities. Look at the Samaritan Foundation Scholarship - the first scholarship through RCPD specifically for undergraduate students. Look at the electronic text program, which this semester is beginning to produce books in electronic text for people with visual and learning disabilities. Look at the hundreds of volunteers already involved with the reading program, which dates back to the 1930s. All of these examples weave a story of tenacity and a belief in the strength of common people.
Perhaps it is inherent in human nature to survive at all costs. Perhaps it is also just as natural to want to help. Thousands of volunteers from churches, schools, the Red Cross and other organizations flocked to New York to help in rescue and cleanup efforts. Many gave a lot to help relatively few.
In the same way, RCPD is supported by a network of volunteers and employees who help people with disabilities succeed at MSU and transition into successful careers after graduation.
Abilities and opportunities are increasing rapidly, and even in the face of adversity, people with disabilities are succeeding. And just as you paid attention to events surrounding September 11, make sure to pay attention to RCPD in the coming, weeks, months and years as it reaches toward its goal of Maximizing Ability and Opportunity. While "We Will Not Forget" became the nation's anthem after September 11, "We Will Not Quit" could easily be the slogan of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities and MSU's community of persons with disabilities.
I recognize that I am just one person, and my thoughts, opinions and feelings come from my own history and experience. I am interested in hearing what you, the reader, have to say. September 11 has had different effects on many people. As someone who is involved with RCPD on some level or another, what is your perspective on the comparisons I see between RCPD and 9/11? Send me your thoughts to email@example.com. We may even publish you in the Harbinger newsletter.