BTL: Family Member of 911 Victim Reflects On Loss
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release Sept. 9, 2002
Family Member of Sept. 11 Victim Reflects on Her Loss and Mood of the Country
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Interview with the Rev. Myrna Bethke, member of September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, conducted by Scott Harris
The first year anniversary of the Sept.11 terrorist attacks arrives with enormous emotion, fear and a determination to rise above the horrific violence visited upon the nation on that extraordinary day one year ago. People from all walks of life will gather for prayer services, family members of those killed will pause to remember their loved ones and politicians will no doubt make speeches designed to evoke patriotism and boost their own careers.
While many Americans have coped with the specter of Sept. 11 by displaying flags and expressing support for military action against the perpetrators of the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., others most deeply touched by the violence have taken a different approach. The September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows was founded by relatives of Sept. 11 victims. The group advocates a nonviolent response to terrorism and works toward breaking the endless cycle of violence and retaliation engendered by war.
Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with the Rev. Myrna Bethke, a member of the Peaceful Tomorrows group whose younger brother Bill died in the attack on the World Trade Center. Rev. Bethke, the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Freehold, N.J, traveled with other surviving family members to Afghanistan in June, where they met relatives of those killed or injured in the U.S. bombing campaign there. She reflects on her loss and the mood of the country on the first year observance of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
Rev. Bethke: My brother Bill, or we call him Billy, worked for Marsh and McClennan and had just been transferred up to the World Trade Center from a Princeton (N.J.) office about four months before Sept. 11. I can remember on Sept. 11 watching the news unfold and it took me about five minutes to remember even that he had worked there.
Then we joined all of the other people who started looking for those that we -- they hadn't heard from and posted the pictures, searched the hospitals, placed messages on the Internet hoping for some word. Then when you started seeing "have you heard from anybody from Cantor Fitzgerald or Marsh and McClellan," you realized that those were the two companies who had taken the largest losses. I think it was Thursday (Sept. 13) before we had verified that he was on the 95th floor, which was right in the path of the first plane that hit.
Between The Lines: How did you find yourself involved with this organization, September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows?
Rev. Bethke: Well, after we got news of his death, I was also doing what needed to be done at the church in terms of holding church services, I think everybody was doing that. We kept our church open for that whole week, so that people could come in and pray. I led a memorial service for my brother's company in Princeton the following week. But all through that time I felt I was missing something, that there was something more I needed to do. It wasn't until February 2002, that I found out about the group Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. And as soon as I heard about the group's formation I knew that that's what I had been looking for. It was really good to get together and talk with other people who had similar views, who even though we had lost someone to violence, didn't think that violence was the way to respond in order to bring about any kind of justice, healing or reconciliation .
Between The Lines: Rev. Bethke, your examination and reflection on what happened and your joining up with this group, September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, brought you to Afghanistan. Tell us when you went and why you went.
Rev. Bethke: I went to Afghanistan this past June, I spent two weeks there. I went at the invitation of (the group) Global Exchange who had heard of me through Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. In June they put together a delegation that was made up of clergy and laity from the three major faith traditions: Christian, Jews and Muslims. There were 18 of us who went along.
For me it was an opportunity to be together with a group of people who were committed to interfaith dialogue -- but also kind of a chance to go to the place which gave birth in some ways to what happened on Sept. 11. And so I wanted to see for myself what kind of conditions existed in Afghanistan so that someone could come through and basically hijack their country for their own means and to commit the acts of September 11th. I also wanted to go to demonstrate to the people, not just in Afghanistan but other places, that there were Americans who would want to reach out in compassion and to look for peaceful ways to promote healing and reconciliation.
In Afghanistan, I met a little girl named Amina who was eight years old. Amina sat in front of about 25 of us one night and listed all of the family members that were killed in a U.S. bombing that missed its target. And again, I was struck that no child should have to do that for her parents and her family. So I was even more committed that violence is not the way to solve any of our problems.
Between The Lines: What's your sense of where Americans are at this first anniversary of Sept. 11th? A lot of anger, a lot of patriotism was in the air immediately after the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks. Do you think the American people, in general, have moved on from that to something else? And where do you think they are right now?
Rev. Bethke: Actually, I think everybody is at different places in that grieving cycle. Some people who weren't affected as directly have certainly moved on; their daily lives weren't changed in a lot of ways, although the specter of 9-11 still hangs over everybody. As I talk to different family members, we're all at different places in that grieving cycle as well. I know there are some people who are just now having funerals for those that were killed because they haven't yet found any remains.
I think we're still really divided over how this is all going to pull together and don't have that kind of unifying sense of even to what do we do with ground zero after this. But there still is a sense; I've noticed people still treat each other with a greater kindness. We're more gentle with one another and I hope that continues.
We (the family members of 9/11 victims) were all treated with such grace and kindness. I remember thinking how carefully people looked for the remains of persons, particularly at the World Trade Center site. And I hope that the next time 10,000 people are killed in a mudslide in Guatemala, or somewhere else in the world, that same kind of care is extended to those events as well. I hope we learned that from Sept. 11 and that we work really hard on that.
Rev. Myrna Bethke is pastor of First United Methodist Church in Freehold, N.J.
September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows can be reached at (415) 518-1991 or visit their Web site at http://www.peacefultomorrows.org
Scott Harris is the executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (www.btlonline.org), for the week ending Sept. 13, 2002