9.11.2001 – Reflections

September 11th Memorial Tribute In Light 2014
Tribute in Light, in 2014, by Anthony Quintano [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0 )], via Wikimedia Commons
Like so many people today, I’m reflecting on the events of that awful day 17 years ago when so many innocent people died, and so many more felt the world had turned upside down. Every American who was old enough to remember that day will probably be processing their reactions to those events for the rest of their lives.

I have very rarely said anything public about 9/11. I have several reasons for this. The biggest reason is that my own experience of that day was very unusual.

Far from Home

I don’t have the same kind of “where were you when” story that most Americans have, for the simple reason that I wasn’t here. I had left the United States five days earlier, and I was in Germany for a week-long training conference. When I first got word that something had happened, I was playing a pick-up game of basketball at a private conference center in a very small village in the German countryside, largely cut off from the world.

Breaking News

The first indication that something was wrong was when somebody ran by on an elevated walkway, yelling urgently. I couldn’t quite make out the first sentence; I think it was, “There’s a fire in New York.” The next is seared into my memory: “The World Trade Center is in the street.” And just like that, the runner was gone.

It took a couple of minutes for those of us on the court to decide what to make of this. We didn’t even fully agree on what we had heard, much less what it meant. Several of us thought it meant that there had been some sort of market crash or economic disruption; others thought it meant the WTC’s occupants had evacuated because of a literal fire. After a few moments, we decided to call the game and go looking for more information.

The Hunt for Information

It took a while to find any. First, we had to find other people. But when we did, no one actually knew anything. We had only one landline for almost 200 people to use, and the few cell phones people had stopped working almost immediately due to network congestion. So, the first fragments of information we got were just fragments. We heard all kinds of wild rumors: both towers had collapsed; neither had collapsed; the Capitol was gone; the President was dead; the President was alive but in hiding; and on and on. We even heard really outlandish things about bombers, nuclear weapons, and more. The only source of information was phone calls limited to 30 seconds at first and later relaxed to two minutes. Facts and rumors given in soundbite form over the phone (with a terrible connection and multi-second delay due to distances) were repeated, misunderstood, and repeated again. In a group of people who were all far from home, not all native speakers of English, and with only one staticky phone line for information, it was impossible to fact-check faster than rumors could come in.

After a couple of hours, we started to catch up. A friendly, local couple down the road happened to have CNN via satellite and had started recording the feed when it became clear that a big plane, not a Cessna or something, had crashed. They started sending over videotapes and summary updates every hour or two.

By the time we were able to see anything on a TV screen, we were roughly three hours behind real-time. This meant that we mostly heard about developments—real and fictional—long before we saw them. During a national tragedy that so many Americans watched live, huddled together in living rooms, classrooms, conference rooms, break rooms, and sandwich shops, we watched on a delay, thousands of miles from American soil. We grieved together, of course, but we did so with almost no contact with family or friends at home, at least for those first few days.

Processing

That conference marked the start of a year-long trip. With the exception of a couple of people whose families were directly impacted, none of us were heading home to family or friends for many months to come. And with the exception of a half-dozen or so people, I had never met any of the people around me until a couple of days earlier.

My little team was in France a few days later, where we spent much of the following year. My French at that point was rudimentary, but it didn’t take much to figure out the news headlines. At first, they wept over “La Catastrophe.” Then they screamed of “Les Attaques!” Then, when it became obvious that America would react with force, they coldly updated us on “Les Accidents.” I had hundreds of conversations about these things with French, German, Spanish, Italian, Algerian, and Moroccan nationals, among others, before I had my first chance to speak in person to anyone I knew at home about them. I felt I had heard the collective thoughts and feelings of the entire world, but only a hint of the sentiments in my own country.

Cut Off

The next year was brutal and surreal for many reasons. We tried to keep up with news from home via the Internet and phone calls home, but we were surprisingly isolated. Many events at home that year just passed us by. I remember waiting for my flight home nearly a year later and picking up a copy of USA Today (not something I regularly read) in hopes of filling in gaps in my knowledge of non-terrorism, non-war events at home. Two of the top stories asked who would be the American Idol and who would be kicked off the island. I had absolutely no clue what they were talking about. Many other stories left me just as befuddled about everything from politics to sports.

For those of us who were abroad that year, 9/11 was a horrifying short-circuit, making it even harder to stay connected with “ordinary” life in the United States. While we wish as much as anyone that the 9/11 attacks had never happened, we also felt—and will always feel—isolated and cut off by that day. Our answers to the “where were you” question will always sound alien, strange, even weird. To some people I have met, those answers even sound un-American or somehow hostile.

Silence

I have mostly kept these things to myself because most people have had a hard time relating to them. In the first few years after 9/11, people tended to react in one of two ways to anything I might say: (1) silence, followed by a quick change in subject, or (2) anger, as if by being abroad during a national tragedy I had somehow chosen to cut myself off from my country.

Reactions in the last few years have mellowed, and now I mostly get the kind of look you might get if you said something completely unintelligible to someone you had just met: an uneasy stare, an unsuccessful attempt to form words, another second of silence, and a sudden shift in conversation.

Why Am I Writing This?

So, why am I speaking about this now? Why does it matter what I have to say? To be honest, a big part of it is just to let it out, to say the things I have mostly kept to myself for 17 years. But another reason is this: I hope it might be helpful to someone. Maybe someone out there is still struggling with their own feelings about that day and feels they can’t share because they don’t have a “story” that sounds “good enough” or “American enough.”

If that’s you, you’re not alone. Please reach out to me or someone else to talk about it.

I also hope this encourages at least a few people to be more empathetic. American life is full of anger, especially around politics, right now. But one of the lessons of 9/11 is that we are all human, and we all hurt, even though all of our stories are different, and sometimes we really can come together in a meaningful way that transcends our tribal squabbles.

If you’d like to talk for any reason, shoot me a note. If anything in this offended you or seems self-centered somehow, please accept my sincere apologies; that is not my intent at all.

Never forget those who died that awful day. And go hug someone you love.

Hurricane Florence PSA for My Friends and Family

EDIT 9/14/2018: Even though the storm’s winds weakened, the water – surge and rainfall – was always the primary threat. It still still is a very serious threat and will be for several days after landfall. Please continue to take this storm very seriously.

NC & SC FOLKS: Please read and share this! It’s not the same old yada-yada. Please prepare now for Florence and know where you are going if you have to evacuate in a hurry. This is going to be like nothing NC & SC have seen in recorded history. Seriously.
 
Hurricane Florence May be the Strongest U.S. Landfall on Record so Far North
f=”https://twitter.com/weatherchannel/status/1039511126407405570″> https://twitter.com/weatherchannel/status/1039511126407405570[/capt
Yes, I know y’all know a hurricane is coming, and yes, I know y’all have lived through other hurricanes. So have I. I grew up there, too. I get it.
 
This is different. Florence is going to be huge and powerful (at least Saffir-Simpson category 3, meaning sustained winds well over 100 mph, with much higher gusts). The rainfall is the real threat, though, and Florence is perfectly set up to be like Harvey: swoop in, bring a lot of tropical moisture, stall near the coast, and drown everything. Even the rainfall forecasts are eerily similar to what we were seeing in Houston as Harvey got close.
 
Y’all are looking at 10+ inches of rain in 7 days over the entire eastern half of NC, and 20+ inches in places. That will flood pretty much everything, everywhere, just like it did with Harvey here in Houston.
Key Messages for Hurricane Florence
 
Please take this seriously. Have supplies (water, food, medicine, batteries, gasoline, etc.) on hand; you know the drill. But just as importantly: have an ESCAPE ROUTE. Know where you will go if you have to evacuate, and know that BEFORE the rain starts falling. Know where the 100- and 500-year floodplains are near you. Know where the creeks and rivers are.
 
Don’t forget to get valuables off the floor and as high as possible. Pull together important papers. Assume you’re going to have to leave everything behind on literally a minute’s notice. I know a lot of people who lived in places that “never flood,” outside the 500-year floodplains, who had to abandon their homes in a matter of minutes during Harvey as the waters came in. This is not a hypothetical scenario; it really can happen to you.
 
Florence Versus Size of the Carolinas
Again, I know y’all know this, but I love y’all, so I’m saying it anyway. You can’t overprepare for something on this magnitude. Please stay safe and check in regularly.
 

“He is not here, for he has risen.”

Three empty crosses

Three empty crosses

“He is risen!”

Countless Christians around the world hear these words and say them to each other on Easter Sunday. They aren’t meaningless, nor are they some spiritual mumbo-jumbo. They have a very specific, very concrete, very real-world meaning. They mean that Jesus—a man brutally and very thoroughly put to death with all the efficiency that the Roman empire could muster one Friday afternoon—got up on Sunday morning… and simply walked out of his tomb.

These words are stunning. And they are absurd. They are, on their face, not just implausible; they are crazy. After all, when someone tells you that a dead person just got up and walked away under his own power, the normal reaction is to conclude that this person has lost his or her mind.

But it turns out, the words themselves aren’t the craziest part. The truly crazy thing is that they’re true.

The beaten, whipped, nail-punctured, spear-pierced man who died a painful, bloody, horrible, and very public death in front of countless witnesses really did just get up and walk away on the third day. Without medical attention, without help from anyone on earth, his heart, his lungs, his brain, and all his other organs started up again. And he stood, stepped out of the tomb, and in that moment split all of history in two.

Hundreds of people saw him walking, talking, eating, and drinking long after he was supposed to be—no, really was—dead and buried. The people who knew him best were so certain that he had risen from the dead they were willing to die horrible deaths of their own rather than deny that Jesus was still alive.

He is risen. This one fact changes everything about how we understand the world around us. It must. The only question is: what will you do about it?

He is risen!

Happy Easter.

New Job – Quick Thoughts

As many of you know, I started a new job with the new year. Yesterday was my first day as a Senior Attorney in the litigation group of the law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP. It was a great day, and I’m very excited about the work ahead. I will be doing two types of work: both representing clients in their litigation matters and developing software platforms to augment and streamline the practice of law. It’s a truly unique opportunity to combine two of my skill sets and passions, and I can’t wait to get started in earnest.

I will, of course, miss the outstanding justices and wonderful former colleagues at the First Court of Appeals. But all good things in this life must come to an end, and this next chapter promises to be a great one!

Your Smartphone or Your Life

Everyone: please be safe on the road. Whatever you need to read or look at on a phone can wait. It’s not worth dying for.
 
A few things I’ve seen in the last 24 hours:
 
A young man riding a bike and reading a piece of paper, with no hands on the handlebars. He was so focused on the paper that he wasn’t looking at the road at all, ran a stop sign, and turned directly into oncoming traffic, where he nearly got hit by a car. He never looked up, even when the car swerved around him, but just kept riding down the wrong side of the road.
 
A guy driving a car, using both hands to hold a book instead of the wheel, and looking down at the book in his lap, all while driving at full speed down one of the busiest streets in Houston during rush hour.
 
Multiple people running stop signs in my neighborhood at full speed, while all around children were walking to and from school.
 
A lady driving down one of those same neighborhood streets, holding her phone directly in front of her face… with small children in the back seat.
 
A story about a young lady who tried to “go live” on a streaming video service while driving. It cost her life and the lives of everyone else in her car.
 
Please drive when you’re driving. Read, text, tweet, “go live,” or play games later. Whatever else is going on in your life, it’s not so important that you need to jeopardize your life or the lives of your children and neighbors.

Post-Mortem, Episode III

After every presidential election since the first one in which I got to vote, I have posted some thoughts on this blog or in various other places on the ‘net. You can read the 2004, 2008, and 2012 posts on this site; the 2000 post and a longer 2004 post have apparently been lost to the mists of time. This is my 2016 wrap-up.


Like most of the country, I was stunned by the candidates’ reversals of fortune over the course of the evening. Like many others, I sat and watched the live forecast by the New York Times update, amazed as the needles on the win-probability, popular-vote, and electoral-college gauges ticked slowly, inexorably to the right. And like many others, I am now exhausted physically from a late night and exhausted emotionally from witnessing what will surely be remembered as one of the most amazing political events in American history.

Beyond that, though? I really don’t have much to say. I’m not happy about many of the results that we saw last night, but it has been almost a year since I had much hope of that. My musings won’t add much to anyone’s ability to process what has happened.

So, instead of waxing on, I’ll point everyone to some essential reading material as we all try to move forward, to comprehend what just happened, and to continue to function as a people. Some of it addresses Christians, some the broader “right,” and some attempts to speak to everybody. Regardless of a particular piece’s target audience, if you want to understand what is motivating millions of Americans, including those you don’t know and don’t see everyday, I’d suggest reading everything below.

Required reading:

Please pray for America and all her leaders. They need it.

Votes and Prayers

I voted today, on the first day of early voting in Texas. Now, don’t worry; I’m not going to tell you in this post how I think you should vote. (I literally am not allowed to endorse candidates for any office because of my job.) I’m also not going to tell you how not to vote. Instead, I’m going to tell a little story. Actually, I’m going to preach a little sermon to myself. And I’m asking you to read it, so you can preach it back to me when I need it.

Continue reading “Votes and Prayers”

Commenting on the State of the World

I have not been posting about all of the traumatic news in recent days—whether political news or news of acts of violence—for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons is that, in my current full-time job, I am a public servant who cannot, for ethical reasons, comment every time I might want to do so. Various ethical and disciplinary rules mean that I simply cannot comment at all on certain topics. On other topics, my commentary would have to be incomplete and might be misleading or confusing. So, unfortunately, I often have to stay silent, in exchange for the great and humbling privilege of working in the Texas justice system every day, in hopes of contributing to the proper, fair application of the law.

If you read this blog or my social media feeds and wonder why I have been silent about these topics, please know that my heart is broken by the news of violence and mayhem over the last few days. There are no words for the senseless violence we have seen in numerous places in the U.S., tonight in Nice, France, and in countless other locales around the world. Whether we are talking about large-scale terrorist attacks, armed conflict, or violence against specific individuals, there is plenty of news over which all of us who respect and cherish life—regardless of political party, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, religion, or sexual orientation—can and should mourn together. In this fallen and hurting world, sometimes that is the best and most important thing we can do in moments like these.

Please join me in praying for wisdom for our leaders, for peace, for healing for the hurting, and for justice to be done. Lord, have mercy.

Election 2016: Why I Cannot Vote for Trump

I have mostly kept quiet this year about the election, for a variety of reasons. For those reasons and other reasons, this may well be my only election-related post during this presidential election. But, I have something to say and want to get it on the record now, before Super Tuesday and the Texas primary. So, here goes.

This year is likely to result in the most distressing lineup of general-election candidates to be President of the United States that we have seen during my lifetime. It seems highly likely that, come November, we will be asked to choose between two or more candidates who, apparently, either do not understand or do not take seriously the office of President and its duties and limitations as set out in the Constitution.

As Americans—regardless of where we fall on (or off) of the left-right spectrum—we should expect and demand that a President, or even a candidate for President, do certain things and uphold certain values. After all,

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, [the President] shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:—”I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

This is not a mere formality or afterthought. It’s a formal, explicit requirement in the Constitution, Article II, Section 1, Clause 8. In other words, it’s important.

And, as you know, the Constitution of the United States includes, among many other things, a Bill of Rights, consisting of the first ten Amendments to the Constitution. These Amendments protect and codify—but do not create—certain fundamental human rights, which any American government and any American President must—legally must and morally must—respect. These include the free choice and exercise of religion; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom “peaceably to assemble;” freedom to petition the government to redress grievances; “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms;” security against unreasonable searches, seizures, and arrests; the right to a jury trial; the right not to testify when doing so would incriminate oneself; and many others.

In electing a President, only two things are of first importance to me (or should should be to anyone else): (1) God’s claim on my conscience and (2) the Constitution. For this reason, I look for candidates who respect free speech and freedom of religion, who are not afraid of a free citizenry, and who will, above all else, respect the sanctity and dignity of all human life, from the weakest and smallest to the strongest and more powerful among us. I certainly look for conservatives and people of faith, but even those criteria are secondary to respect for human life and the rule of law. I cannot and will not vote for any candidate who does not respect humanity or human liberty or whose personal history and moral character reveal that any such respect may be no more than a political and rhetorical device.

To put it simply: a candidate for President must respect human life, human dignity, the Constitution, and the rule of law as opposed to the rule of men. All else is secondary.

The most notable development in this election cycle is the meteoric rise of Donald Trump as a contender for the Republican nomination. Trump, however, has long been a liberal supporter of Democratic candidates, not a conservative. He has long had no regard for the lives of the unborn or the rights of individuals to enjoy their property if it interferes with his plans (whether here or abroad). His supposed conversion to a conservative mindset that respects human life and dignity is very recent and poorly explained. His defense of critical liberties protected by the First and Second Amendments is spotty, at best. He flaunts his misogynyclaims not to know enough about the Ku Klux Klan to disavow an endorsement from former KKK grand wizard David Duke, and engages in daily bullying and name-calling on the internet. (I’m simply linking to his entire Twitter feed because it contains plenty of examples.) In short, he consistently disrespects those he would lead, even after his purported conversion to conservatism, and he falls far short of being the kind of person I could vote for to be President.

Regardless of how Trump stacks up compared to any other candidate he might hypothetically face in November, he doesn’t measure up and has not demonstrated to me that he possesses the personal qualities, convictions, or moral compass necessary to do the job. So, if Trump is the Republican nominee, conservatives will not be tasked with choosing the “lesser of two evils” or the least ill-suited candidate. We will face a choice between one form of unqualified, irresponsible, unconstitutional governance and another. As a Christian, an American, a lawyer, and a citizen of this great nation, I cannot vote for anyone who lacks respect for human dignity or the law of the land simply because some opponent of his seems to share the same failings.

As any reader of this site over the 17 years I have run it will know, I am a conservative, in the sense that Burke, Kirk, and Reagan (among many others) were conservative. That does not mean I am a Republican. In fact, although I would have called myself a Republican in the past, I don’t consider myself one anymore. It’s one of those “I didn’t leave the party; the party left me” situations. I, like so many other people, am incredibly frustrated by both major parties, “politics as usual,” and the moral malleability of many career politicians. So while Republicans may often get my vote, they are not entitled to it simply because of the initial after their names. They, like anyone else, have to earn it on the merits of their convictions and their actions.

I will vote in the Texas primary elections tomorrow, and I will vote according to my conscience. When I vote in November, I will vote the same way, guided by the same conscience and the same principles. Therefore, I will not vote for Donald Trump tomorrow. He fails on the most basic criteria: respect for human life and dignity, and respect for the Constitution.

And if common sense fails and Trump is the Republican nominee, I will not vote for him in November, either. My conscience will not allow it. I would love to see a constitutionalist President who is conservative, reverent, humble, good, fair, and courageous. Simply electing a Republican because he obtained the Republican nomination, however, does not guarantee any of those things.

If your state has not yet held its primary or caucus, I hope you will take seriously your civic responsibility to vote. I hope that you will vote, and that you will vote according to your conscience. And I hope that, when you do so but before you cast your ballot, you ask yourself: “Does this person respect human life at all ages, in all conditions, and in all times and places, and will this person preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States?”

Please vote for someone who loves life and loves the Constitution. We are all counting on you.

What I’m Up to Now

If you read this blog regularly, you know I have a lot on my plate. Here’s a quick snapshot of what I’m up to.

It’s safe to say 2016 is off to a busy start.