December 2, 2008

Millions of Lives Affected by Violence

We were all set to go to India. Our bags were packed and sitting by the doorway. We’d gotten our shots, packed our parasite pills and were ready to take our first dose of Malaria pills. Then we got the news.

We were in Tucson preparing to have a nice Thanksgiving with our son Bennett and his wife Jessica. We’d only been there for about an hour when Deborah got an email that terrorists were shooting their way through Mumbai. It turns out that they had also killed many people and had taken hostages in the Taj Majal Hotel, the hotel chain we were would be staying 5 days later.

I immediately got a very bad feeling. My heart sunk and my stomach churned. I felt like I was part of it. Even though I had not yet been to India, much less Mumbai, I somehow felt connected to what was going on. The pit in my stomach was fear.

Deb and I decided that we needed to let out hosts in India know that we were still commited to fulfilling our obligation for three speaking engagements. We sent an email and waited for a response. At that point, we didn’t even know if any of the people we had been working with were killed or injured. We sent the email and waited.

In the interim we watched CNN, read whatever news we could find online and wondered what would happen. Later that night we received an email response that everyone was okay and that they were relieved that we were still coming. We went to bed that night with mixed feelings.

This Thanksgiving was going to be much more than a simple celebration of gratitude – it was a passing of the torch. This was the first time one of our kids was the host. Bennett and Jessica were preparing a huge Turkey dinner complete with salad, stuffing, yams, rolls, cranberry sauce and asparagus. And of course, pumpkin pie.

On Thursday morning we awoke to the news that Mumbai was under seige. The full scale of the attack was now front page news all over the world. Ten young men were on a rampage of terror. The Taj Majal Hotel was on fire, hundreds of people were dead and wounded. And here we were, enjoying a celebration of gratitude with the ones we loved.  

We ate our amazing meal. We played Boulderdash. We watched a movie. And every once in awhile, I went online to see what was happening in Mumbai. It was getting worse. The number of dead and wounded was rising. We went to bed and prayed for the people in Mumbai.

The first thing Deborah did when she woke up Friday morning was to check the email on her Blackberry for news from India. Our hosts, on the advice of the government of India, the police, the sponsors and delegates, cancelled all events. The trip was off. It was too dangerous to be hosting a conference with a well known American speaker.

We got on a plane and flew back to Colorado Springs. Our heads were spinning and our emotions were all over the place. I felt lousy. Deborah felt depressed. And we both were heartsick for our friends in India who were there in the middle of it.

It had only been six weeks since we first heard from them asking us to come. In those six weeks we had applied for Visas, went to the health department for shots, gotten prescriptions filled, planned a holiday in the south of India, watched any videos we could find about India or with Indian storylines and read books. The books helped us to know what to expect about the people, the culture, the unexpected.

I had personally battled with my prejudices, my longings and my ego. I was about to be introduced to the Indian business community as the Guru of storytelling from America. They were lining up a 30 minute TV interview with CNBC in India. This was going to be a big deal. I was being set up to be a big deal. And I was scared – excited but scared.

As I sit writing this, and in the days since we let go of our dream trip to India, I have become even more aware of how interconnected we all are. These ten desperate young men and their misguided hatred have affected millions of lives.

Terrorism is not about the lives that are lost, it’s about the lives that are affected by fear. How many other trips to India have been cancelled? How many innocent citizens of Mumbai will lose their jobs or suffer from the economic loss due to a decrease in tourism and business events?

We are now in negotiations to go to India next December. If it happens, it won’t be the same. The excitement and anticipation will be tempered by the stark realization that bad things can happen while in the process of doing good things.

Violence has had its effect. Like many others however, I will not let the fear or trepidation stop me from living my life. As an American, I know I am a possible target anywhere I go. I also know that I have been invited to speak in India where there are people who want to hear what I have to say. The people of India have stories to tell and I am intent on helping them with those stories.

If we don’t tell our stories, how we will make sense of this? How will we tell the next generation what we have learned from these experiences? We all need to tell our stories.

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