OFF THE RECORD: The 9/11 adjustment

By Roberta M. Gubbins

The urge to write about 9/11 in the month of September 2011 as it recognized its tenth anniversary was overwhelming. It is on our minds and everyone has a memory of what they were doing when the Twin Towers came down, the planes crashed, the Pentagon was on fire and people were dying. Now, in 2011, we reflect on how that event shaped our lives.

Certain of us were immediately affected since those folks were right on the scene. Others had friends or family who were there, still others got in their cars and drove to New York to help in whatever way they could.

The alteration or change was greater for some than for others, but all of us experienced a shift.

For me, the shift was a 180-degree turn. I closed my law practice, sold my house, volunteered with the American Bar Association and spent a year in the Republic of Moldova attempting to help their transition from communism to democracy, not an easy task. I did this with the idea that if people get to know the ordinary American--they might not hate us so much.

A naive thought, perhaps; maybe they still hate us--I don't know--but I am sure of two things as a result of my adventures--I left a small piece of myself there and brought a bit of Moldova back with me. And the experiences there expanded my thinking.

I learned that becoming an independent, free thinker is not easy when you have spent generations doing what you are told; that being entrepreneurial, difficult in the U.S. where it is encouraged, is really hard when you have no examples to follow and that taking the initiative is almost impossible when others have programmed you to believe that such behavior is prosecutable.

On the other hand, I soon realized that I didn't need as much stuff as I thought I needed. And, that it is possible to function on a cash basis, somewhat inconvenient but doable. As I became involved in the vibrant artist community that survived the communist rule by hiding paintings that were not according to the party line, I became more appreciative of the creative side of human nature that, in the best and the worst of times, will express itself.

I met the members of the legal community there and I found many similarities between them and us. They complained of overwork, no pay--from clients or the government--and lack of resources--especially true in Moldova where the government couldn't afford to print the new laws and most lawyers could not afford computers.

Their legal life became far more complicated with independence from the Soviet Union. They had to write new laws, re-invent old laws, both substantive and procedural and explain them to each other and their clients. Oh, and reorganize their bar association and create ethical rules, previously unheard of in their world. And, of course, take care of their families and have a semblance of a social life.

And do all this in the midst of an impoverished, corrupt society where it was often necessary to pay the judge to hear your case, assuming he could find the file in a court house that could be without electricity, running water or heat--at times all at once. But practice law they did and with their heads held high, simply because they were lawyers and that is what lawyers do.

I was amazed at how they accomplished all those tasks.

Did 9/11 change them?

According to the records, one Moldovan died that day bringing grief to that family. Others in the country were indirectly affected. Many families in Moldova rely on money sent from relatives working abroad and the new stricter travel restrictions in other countries limited access to those countries reducing their income. Some turned their meager entrepreneurial skills to human trafficking, drug running and arms smuggling as alternate sources of revenue.

The NGOs (Non-governmental organizations), another source of support, experienced problems as the volunteer pool diminished and donations dwindled meaning they couldn't offer as many services as in the past. And countries that had previously sent funds to help Moldova cut back as more moneys were needed to fight the 'war on terror.'

We were, are and will continue to be affected by 9/11. What we experienced and learned from that experience, has become a part of our individual, our nation's and the world's culture. Every year, come September 11th, many of us will look back to see how that event shaped each of our lives. I know I will, will you join me?

Published: Fri, Oct 7, 2011

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