May 7, 2002—Ground
Zero Plus 238
One Day Closer To My Death
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News
GROUND ZERO, New York City, May 7--Today, I am one day
closer to my death. It is my birthday. A day of
Terror. A day of Vigilance.
I am a survivor of many
things. I survived war in which many around me, some standing
only inches away, were blown to pieces. I survived
cancer. I survived bankruptcy, foreclosure. I survived
a year of law school not too long ago. I survived
the battle of corporate life where I ruled a tiny kingdom of
marketing that helped change the way the world's business systems
operate. I survived alcoholism which led me to pit
of despair and forced me to put a gun into my mouth. I
survived the Terrorist attack at Ground Zero on Nine Eleven.
I even survived an IRS
field audit back when the IRS agent knocked on my door and boasted:
"I'm here to put you in jail." (Thank God he
had made a mistake and mistook me for someone else.)
Terrorism is part of life.
It comes and it goes. We either learn how to counter it
with Vigilance and Hope or we become its victim and wallow in
its bottomless pit.
For many years I lived
in Southern California where
the Terrorism of an earthquake ripping open gaping holes in
the earth was an ever-present Nine Eleven alarm.
On one occasion I was on the top floor of the largest building
in Orange County California and it began to literally swivel,
its foundation grinding around on rollers designed to absorb
the stress and shear of the earth moving. It seemed to
gyrate as though twirling a hula hoop. An associate
of mine dived under a desk and wailed as I just stood, looking
out the glass windows, fascinated by the feeling of helplessness,
wondering if this was "it."
Another brush with death happened
when I was in a shark cage off La Jolla, California, taking
underwater pictures of mad Mako sharks. We had chummed
the water with a gunnysack of dead fish to lure the "terror
of the sea." When it arrived, one-by-one we
climbed into the small wire cage strapped to the edge of the
21-foot Boston Whaler to take pictures of its feeding habits.
x When it came my turn, the shark began to bash and batter
the cage, its teeth glistening in the clear water, eyes bulging,
glazed in a feeding frenzy. I held on for dear life with one
hand and took pictures with my Nikonos with the other, fearful
the cage might break loose of the boat and offer me up as an
appetizer for my own personal "Jaws!"
Then there was the time in Spain
when, after one too many drinks, I climbed into a bullring and
demanded a fighting bull be released so I could show how macho
I was. Bulls look smaller when you look down on
them from the arena, but when you are standing in the middle
of a dusty bullring and they charge at you--eyes aflame, the
sharp tips of their horns angled just right to eviscerate your
belly, their nostrils flared with an eager passion to wipe the
silly gin-laced grin off your face--they become giant runaway
locomotives. I remember freezing in panic
as I tried to sidestep the bull as he passed. But I couldn't.
My right foot was planted on the bottom of the cape, trapping
me from moving. The bull hit me head-on, tossing me in
the air as if I were some rag doll, a reminder me that it ate
fools like me for breakfast.
I was also Terrorized as a young
man when I went on my first rock climbing expedition.
I was dangling 700 feet above ragged shale cliffs, my fingertips
wedged into a small crevice. I was working my way around
Tahquitz Peak in Joshua National Park. It was the first
time I had climbed and I was trying to stuff my fear of the
unknown. I was belayed on either side by expert climbers
who promised me they wouldn't let me die, and that if I did
fall the worst was I would break a few bones. It was a
cold day and my fingertips were so numb I could not feel whether
I had hold of the rock or not. I froze halfway.
They urged me to move ahead--"you can do it, Cliff!
Come on. Trust the rock." I still recall
my heart pounding as I slid my fingers along the tiny crevice,
not knowing whether I was in contact with the rock. The numbness
deadened any sense of grip. Faith in their Voices moved
me. Finally, I reached the point where I could clutch
hold of a scrubby branch and pull myself up to a ledge, safe
from the sheer drop.
Once in Vietnam when I was pinned down and bullets spattered
everywhere I wanted to test the John Wayne theory.
We were being ambushed and cut off from our main group.
I was face down in a furrow of dirt as a wall of lead zigged
and zagged over my head, many of the rounds splattering mud
in my face as they threatened closer and closer toward me.
I remember putting my steel helmet on the end of my rifle to
see if I could draw their fire away from my head. As I
lifted it slowly up on the muzzle of my M-14 a few feet in front
of me it was immediately shot and sent careening into the field.
Fear of being killed lying alone in a dirt furrow motivated
me and I leapt up and made a mad dash, running serpentine, deciding
to make it harder for them to hit a moving rather than stationery
target. I survived that too.
These are some, certainly
not all of my Terrorisms in life. I won't go into
the Terror of hiding deep at
the foot of my bed at night as a young child when my mom and
dad were screaming at each other and I could hear my step-father
hitting my mother. On those nights I trembled, afraid he would
come in and attack me or my sister. Or, later in
life when I was teenager after my father bloodied my mother's
nose with his fist I ran down the stairs with a loaded rifle
to shoot him, but at the last minute stopped because he was
leaving the house to go to the bar to drink some more.
For many, such as myself,
Birthdays are "one day closer to your death" events.
They are titled that way because when one looks back over his
or her life, he or she sees both the Terror and the Joy of life
in a composite of blacks and whites. On the dark side
of the frame, you see little to be proud about. You believe
you have choked the hope out of life and the only thing left
is dim clouds of despair in the not-so-distant future.
You become Complacent about life, giving up your ability to
dream, to act as though you had a bright future waiting on a
silver platter of opportunity.
But, there are clear and
lucid moments of Vigilance that weave within the Terror of Time
and make life worth living. These are the "white
sides" of the frame. They represent the rainbows
On my birthday, I try and
shove the Terror of Age away from my eyes and see the many
rainbows that have been given to me.
There was the marriage to my
wife--a woman whom I chose to be the mother of my children--my
highest accolade for any woman. I wanted what I didn't
have--a happy family full of friendship and love. My wife
and I produced two beautiful daughters, rich in character and
deep in convictions. They are our two closest friends
on earth because we agreed to become Parents of Vigilance, to
fight the Terrorism that infects so many children and drives
wedges between mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters,
mothers and sons, fathers and sons.
We honored our children with
all the love we could garnish from our lives, and swept the
path ahead of them for booby traps and land mines. We
fought to teach them to "learn to think," so that
they might make the best choices, and to be responsible for
such choices to themselves, their God, society, and the legacy
of human evolution.
One of our daughters, the mother
of two lovely children and soon-to-be mother of a third, is
graduating in a couple of weeks with her Masters of Divinity
from Union Theological Union in New York City.
She and her husband's mission in life is to help those in need
and to fight for peace and justice.
Our other daughter is federal
special agent, daily working undercover to rid the streets of
America from crime. She packs two 9mm Glocks, and
has chosen a life that demands her life be put on the line each
and every day so others can sleep in peace.
She called me today to tell me
"I was one day closer to my death," a mantra we, as
a family, have sung for many years, a bizarre but effective
reminder to ourselves of our precious duties on this earth to
make this world just a little better than before we arrived.
Some might think such a mantra is negative, morbid or morose,
but it all comes down to how one views life. If we had
but one day to live, how would we live it? Would
we perform little acts of Terrorism against ourselves and others,
or, would we perform little acts of Love and Respect?
Life ultimately is precious and
fragile. It is something we cannot take for granted but
often do. Over the years I have enjoyed the ultimate glories
of its rewards, and the crushing defeats of its challenges.
In all cases I have been able to rise up out of the ashes with
a stronger sense of purpose, a more meaningful appreciation
of those whom I love, and love me even though there have been
times I tried to deny that love, or was Terrorized by it because
I was unable to return it.
My wife, despite my clumsy and
faltering search for myself, has remained at my side offering
her support, her love, her passion to see me succeed despite
my own defects of character. My children have stood alongside
me also, not always happy with me, but always proud of my struggle
to right myself when I was wrong, to try and change for the
good the bad, and to not be afraid to admit my flaws or hide
my true feelings.
A Parent of Vigilance is not
a perfect being. He or she is a person struggling
to achieve perfection by doing the best possible job he or she
can for his or her children and those who are part of life.
Along the way we all fall on our faces. But a Parent
of Vigilance versus a Parent of Complacency is not afraid to
pick himself or herself out of the quagmire and move onward,
toward that tiny pinhole of light in an otherwise dark and dank
"One day closer to my death,"
today means something quite different than it did years ago
when we started to use the statement on our birthdays.
Back then, it meant time was running out, and we laughed and
rushed to do things we had forgotten that needed to get done
that day, that week, that month, that year.
Today, however, "one day
closer to my death," means to me the "death of Terrorism
within me." For many years I was a victim of
Terrorism. I was full of Fear, Intimidation and
Complacency. I never thought I was good enough or worthy
enough to stand among the many. My outside might have
been big and bold and courageous looking, but inside, parts
of me were Jell-O. For whatever reason, there was a quirk
in my nature, a seed of Terrorism, that kept driving me
down, treating me as though I were a nail and life was a hammer,
pounding at my dreams, smashing my ambition, reducing me to
a state of Emotional Nothingness. Each time I lifted
my head out of my Terrorized rut, my defects drove me
back down into myself, into the caves of unworthiness, the lonely
desolate caves of self despair, self flagellation. Their
Voices chimed that my life was a sham, making me feel I had
been robbed of its true false treasures I sought--wealth, fame,
fortune, health, youth.
How utterly foolish I was then.
On September 11th, 2001, when
I was at Ground Zero during the Terrorist attack, and buildings
crumbled and bodies leaped to their deaths and people screamed,
"we're all going to die...we're all going to die..."
something ignited inside me.
I realized on that day I had
a choice--to become a true Parent of Vigilance or a Parent of
Terrorism. I could continue my life in a state of
emotional despondency over what I hadn't achieved, or wished
I had achieved and didn't, or, I could hold up the Shield of
Vigilance and bolster the Courage, the Conviction and Action
necessary to become the man I have always wanted to be.
That man stands before you today,
one day closer to his death.
I stand on over 300,000 words
I have written from heart and soul since September 11th on the
subject of Vigilance vs. Terrorism.
They represent my honesty as
a human being about how I feel regarding the subject, and my
commitment to others that they might wish also to join me and
my wife as Parents of Vigilance on a journey to protect our
children, and their children, and their children's children
from the ravages of Emotional as well as Physical Terrorism.
As I look back over my life and
at the graveyard of bones representing my "failures,"
I see them today not as defeats but rather as the marrow of
wisdoms from which I am nourished to write. Because
I have failed in many areas of my life, I know I understand
Terrorism as well as any Terrorist could ever think he or she
understood the word.
I also know that countless millions like myself have also felt
the same and, as they read my words (which my wife edits and
assures are correct prior to publication) know they come from
the heart and soul of a man who has been Terrorized by himself.
I know that one day The
Parents of Vigilance will spread the word to far reaches and
that millions will take the Pledge of Vigilance as their first
step toward forming a more perfect union with themselves and
their children and loved ones.
Whether this happens in my lifetime or not is not as important
as my belief it will happen. The Seed of Vigilance
has been planted too deep to be kicked free by the jackboot
of Terrorism. I know this because I can truly say
with joy that "I am one day closer to my death," and
not fear the end of life.
Each day I am seeding life
If I died tomorrow, or
later today, I know the seeds would flourish.
What has slowly died within
me as a result of September 11th is the Complacency that my
life was without purpose. It wasn't until I survived
Nine Eleven that I began to see and realize the importance of
my role on this earth as a "New York City Combat Correspondent,"
responsible for publishing daily "All the news that's fit
to print about fighting Terrorism with Vigilance!"
I see my life today as a candle with most of its wick burned
down, but below it is a pile of candle wax full of experience,
hope and wisdom. With the time left for me, I intend
to publish daily as long as I can the messages necessary to
defeat Terrorism at home--in the lives of children and parents.
I believe without any reservations
that the world of Terrorism can only be fought by a world of
Vigilance. I also believe that it cannot be fought
by governments, but must be fought by the citizens of each community
who assume at least one percent more Courage than Fear, one
percent more Conviction than Intimidation, and one percent more
Action than Complacency to drive Terrorism out of their neighborhoods.
Such neighborhoods begin under
the roofs of homes and ripple out into towns, regions, states,
nations and the world.
So, I am truly one day closer
to my death--to the death of Terrorism within and without.
TO: Vigilance vs. Protestors of Terrorism