Friday, September 30, 2016

Tough Times at the Harrison Farm

My friends, this is a post which I do not want to compose, but I know I need to say something.  The signs went up today for the auction of my grandfather's farm.  My heart is so sad, and I can almost physically feel the blood gushing down my back from all the knives that have been shoved into it.  A large sign was hung directly across the road from the farmhouse, so I have the opportunity to have to answer my neighbors when they stop to ask why in the world the farm is being sold.  This does, at least, give me the opportunity to affirm to my neighbors that the land is being auctioned against my wishes.  And then I seem to start crying every single time.  

do not have much to say at this point except to offer a few items . . .

am adamantly opposed to the auction of the land.  

I made two offers to my aunts to purchase the farmland.  The first was at the appraised value, which they declined.  I also offered to let them name their price, which they declined.

My grandfather passed when I was 19, and thus could not have envisioned that I would return to the farm after college and spend my life here.  I cannot fault him for not planning his estate in a different way.  

My grandmother had been in deep struggles with dementia at the end of her life, and while I wish she would have planned her estate differently, this is the reality of the situation.  Her trust mandated that the farm was to be sold.  The trust administrator made clear that my aunts could have agreed on a direct sale to me at any value.  They chose not to do so.

I will be at the auction on 11/3/16 to bid on the 44 acres that surround the farmhouse & barns, in an effort to preserve the pastures where my livestock graze -- which are part of the land to be auctioned.  Anyone who bids against me will be risking reciprocals including and not limited to a large army of goats rising up against them.

My heart is very, very sad, yet I am trying to focus on the good things in my world.  My grandmother made it possible that the farmhouse and the barns were not included with the rest of the estate.  I have a home and my animals have a barn.  In fact, I have a really beautiful red barn in which five generations of Harrisons have tended animals.  I have a wonderful ramshackle farmhouse with beautiful memories from my youth of my mother and my grandfather and my grandmother.  I have crazy and amazing animals who make this farm an adventure.  My mother taught me independence and tenacity and stubbornness.  My grandfather encouraged me that I could do whatever I put my mind to doing.  He taught me our family history and he instilled in me a love for farming.  My grandmother nurtured me in my youth, and stressed to me the importance of honesty & loyalty.  No auction, no trust, and no one can ever take from me these things.  

I have spent nearly my whole life working this farm.  During planting & harvest when I was small, I would take my grandfather lunches in the field.  Once I was old enough to be trusted with a tractor, he trained me on his Oliver 1850.  I was eight when I began baling hay with my grandfather in the field across the creek.  I was nine when my grandfather taught me to drive in a 1978 green Suburban when we were working south of the Baird House.  I would help him load lambs and unload coal.  I was his companion on errands to the feed store and the hardware store and Mid States wool growers.  Every spring I was allowed to stay home from school to be his assistant on the day he docked & castrated lambs.  And through all of those adventures, we talked.  He talked about politics and religion and economics and philosophy.  He told me about our family history, and his childhood, and who we were as Harrisons.  Beyond his words, he demonstrated to me every day what it meant to be kind and just and courageous -- in small ways and in difficult situations.  Because I paid attention to those lessons, it hurts keenly to know the land on which he spent his life will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.  I suppose if one had not paid attention to such lessons, it would be easy to sell it off for top dollar.  But I did listen, and I will never forget what he taught me.

Harrison Farm may be much smaller in acreage than it was in previous generations, however, it will continue.  I believe in this land, I believe in farming, and I am not going anywhere.  This place has magical creatures and beautiful spaces, and I know this farm can serve a purpose to connect people with animals and with farming -- whatever size it may be.  I know this is not the situation my mother would have wanted, or my grandfather, or my great-grandfather, or my great-great-grandfather . . . But this is the reality of my situation, and we will carry on.  The sun will come up the day after the auction, and I will figure out a way to make everything work, and the goats will be belligerent, and the chickens will complain, and it will be just another day.  I will carry on, and I will find ways to keep Harrison Farm going.  After all, tomorrow is another day.  (Cue inspiring & uplifting music!)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Goats & Yoga

I tend to make a lot of business decisions with my heart.  This practice is not the best for maintaining profitability or efficiency at a business, and this habit has unfortunately put me in situations that did not always work out in my best interest.  Over the years, though, it has allowed me to understand what is truly important to me as a person, as a farmer, and as a Christian.  This habit has also instilled in me the desire to nurture relationships with the people who matter to me -- whether it is a friendship or a business relationship.  Now that I am running my own farm business, I have been fortunate to find that a lot of good things are starting to percolate because I follow my heart and I value relationships.

On Sunday 9/18, Harrison Farm hosted its first ever "Goats & Yoga", with the amazing Dana Bernstein.  It was a wonderful success, and I have had so much fun telling my friends about this event.  Dana is a warm & inspiring woman.  She is such an accomplished yoga instructor that she has even made this ungainly goatherd adore yoga!  We capped our inaugural class at twenty people . . . and we actually achieved that number plus eight unruly goats, the five members of the Kitty Family, a few visiting chickens, and one overly excited Bonnie Blue Pooch!  Finn Lambkins apparently thought he was just on duty as a greeter: Finn came up during registration, enjoyed some grain & attention, and then literally walked to the barn and let himself back into his pen when the yoga session started.  This proved that goats are more naturally attuned to yoga!  Dana led the yoga session in the front lawn of the farm -- with the big red barn as a back drop, goats milling about, and roosters crowing loudly.  Afterwards, complimentary snacks & beverages were enjoyed and many goat selfies were taken.  It was a very exciting day at Harrison Farm!

Inevitably, when I tell my friends about "Goats & Yoga with Dana", they want to know how this all came about at Harrison Farm.  The easy answer is that through my friendship with Dana, we found a way to combine our two passions of yoga & farming.  The more in depth answer is that my lifetime misadventures somehow conspired to bring really good people into my world that made this event possible.  Years ago, in my misspent youth, I did quite a bit of volunteer work with the Columbus Museum of Art's young professionals group.  Through events there, I met a young lady named Stephanie who was working for Columbus Alive during her time at Ohio State.  We immediately clicked, and I knew I wanted to be friends with this woman who possessed such a bright spirit.  Thanks to the Museum of Art & Columbus Alive, I found one of my most treasured friends who has stood by me through thick & thin, through struggles & joys, through losses & celebrations.  

When the catastrophe that was 2015 occurred in my world, Stephanie stood resolutely by my side through all of my struggles.  As I grappled with making huge decisions on my life & my career, Stephanie was one of the many amazing friends who encouraged me personally and offered important professional advice.  As I began booking some jobs as an independent event planner, Stephanie connected me with her friend Dana who was getting married.  Thanks to this connection made by Stephanie, I had the pleasure of doing day of coordination for Dana's wedding to her awesome husband Jon.  Although this was not the first event which I booked for 2016, it ended up being the first to fall on the calendar.  I knew that I needed an opportunity to "get back on the horse".  As a child, whenever I would get bucked off a horse, my mother always made me get back on that horse.  I hated this as a child, but it instilled in me a level of toughness as a human being.  My mother taught me that the best way to overcome a fear is to become the master of that fear.  Being an event coordinator at a venue is quite different than being an independent event planner.  Thus, I knew that the first wedding that I did on my own would be a real test for me.  It would be the professional equivalent of getting back on the horse that bucked me off.  This was half of the reason that I agreed to coordinate the wedding of Dana & Jon in exchange for getting to be Stephanie's "date" to their celebration: I knew it would test me in a comfortable situation with good people.  The other part of the reason I did it essentially complimentary was because I knew how much Stephanie valued her friend Dana.  I can never pay Stephanie back for all the love she has shown me, and thus it made me happy to help a friend she loved.

My spiritual aunt Nancy Beery always tells me to "lead with love".  By agreeing to help coordinate a wedding in return for being Stephanie's "date" to the reception, so much goodness has come back into my life.  Dana & Jon have become friends that I treasure.  They are both kind, inspiring individuals who live their lives with integrity.  The wedding was truly a labor of joy for me, as I had the opportunity to refine my skills at a wedding that reminded me of the great beauty that happens when two people open their hearts & their lives to each other.  Dana & Jon are creative & remarkable individuals who have forged even greater success as couple.  Their wedding celebration was an authentic reflection of who they are as individuals and as a couple, and this love was reflected by the warmth & joy of their guests at this wonderful celebration.  I got to meet a wealth of lovely people who are their friends & family.  Their wedding remains one of my very favorites, because it was so authentic and so full of love. Despite the rain that day, it was a beautiful event.  I managed to get soaked in the rain on three separate occasions during my efforts.  In many ways, that rain was purifying as I tested myself with a new venture.  Without rain, there are no rainbows.

Since meeting Dana & Jon, I had the pleasure of attending a couple of yoga classes with Dana -- and I loved her teaching style.  They visited Harrison Farm, and got to meet all the unruly creatures that I serve as principle minion.  I had heard of animal-therapy being combined with yoga, and after reading about a farm that did it with goats, I knew it was the perfect idea to create an opportunity for Dana & I to work together.  And since she is so amazing, Dana happily signed on for this adventure!  We had no idea if humans would sign up for this class, much less if the goats would actually behave.  Blissfully, it turned out to be an extraordinary success!  I loved having people come to the farm I adore to enjoy such a great activity, surrounded by really good people & a passel of misbehaving animal friends.  I was extremely touched that several of my friends were there: representing connections made through the Harrison Farm student assistant program, through my work in the event world, and through mutual love of animals.  It was engaging to also have new visitors to the farm who were seeing this beautiful place for the first time.  Beyond that, I could hardly believe that one of the guests -- whom I had never met before -- actually had the same name as one of my goats.  That was a fortuitous surprise that could never have been planned!

During the dark winter of 2015-2016, I spent much time searching my soul to understand who I was, what my place was in this world, and how I could make this world a better place.  The struggles of that time made me recognize how important it is to me to use the resources I have to make life better for others.  It also made me willing to stake my future on doing things that I love and that I feel have value.  I love celebrations, and I love animals, and I love teaching.  "Goats & Yoga with Dana" incorporated all those things in a beautiful manner.  It was a huge moment for me as a farmer to see these things come together in an opportunity for others to enjoy this farm that I love.  It was also a huge moment for me as a person to feel that good things were happening because I followed my heart.  For someone who feels emotions as heavy as I do, it has always been painful when my employers or colleagues have told me to remove my emotions from my business decisions.  Now that I work for myself, I am finding great reward in following my heart.  

Sustainability in farming is not just about the environment, it is also about society.  Giving visitors the opportunity to see Harrison Farm allows them to connect directly with a farmer in a comfortable situation where they can ask any question they have about agriculture.  I believe this farm can serve a valuable purpose to connect people with animals and with farming.  I am so blessed that I have phenomenal people in my world like Stephanie and Dana and Jon who support me in this effort.  I suspect if I told Virgil Harrison about "Goats & Yoga", he would smile and shake his head slowly with a beautiful light in his eyes as he said, "Are you sure about that?"  But I also suspect that my grandfather would be fiercely proud that his granddaughter is working so hard to make this farm of value to others, while also fighting to preserve the legacy of the farm he loved.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Some Thoughts on a Visit to a Slaughterhouse, on a Long & Trying Day as a Farmer

Right is right, even if everyone is against it.  Wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.  This thought greatly influences my actions in divisive situations.  I keenly dislike being involved in disagreements, but I have become more comfortable speaking out when someone's words or actions are unacceptable.  I detest when others make judgements without accurate knowledge or understanding.  I have been in several uncomfortable situations where my own family members have turned on me when I would not join their bandwagon to hate on someone.  Because I try to judge individuals with accuracy based on both their good qualities and their poor qualities, I refuse to jump to a judgement of any form without knowledge.  This has led to strained relationships with some of my extended family, when I would not wholesale condemn those they disliked. In turn, it has made me more willing to stand by my instincts & analysis, and has eventually led me to understand that people who judge without reason are not people I need in my world.  I am at peace with that, even if it creates difficulty to some extent for me.

I share that personal reflection to offer some understanding of how I recently became involved in a social media firestorm over a slaughterhouse in Hilliard.  The Columbus media has recently covered the story of a gentleman who has purchased 5.136 acres (the figure which I found on the County Auditor's website), and has started an on-farm slaughter facility.  This gentleman is residing in the home on the front of the property (per the Columbus Dispatch), and has animals and a small custom slaughter facility on the back part of the property.  From interviews conducted by the local broadcast news & print media with the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the regulations have been met for this custom on-farm facility, and the owner is also in compliance with necessary codes for Division of Meat Inspection and Ohio EPA.  As the property is over five acres, it meets the land requirement for a business to be classified as agricultural exempt -- meaning that it is regulated by agricultural codes. 

A few days ago, one of my best friends posted an article on social media related to this business -- and many people commented on it in a manner that was derogatory toward livestock production and meat processing.  I replied to comments asserting that slaughterhouses are a key part of the farm community, that they provide jobs & pay taxes, and that they offer food to our community.  I consistently maintained that if this business has met the needed regulations & codes, that I would encourage the neighbors to simply give it a chance -- knowing that the Department of Agriculture would absolutely shut it down if it was not meeting legal standards.  This led to some negativity directed toward me in further comments, despite my efforts to provide perspective and keep asking that people simply give this business a chance.  Beyond that, those who were opposed to the business kept saying it was unethical, without giving any factual information on how it was unethical.  

I raise livestock, I ran a slaughterhouse, and I care about the farm community.  I also strongly dislike seeing people judged based on speculation and not fact.  Thus, I reached out to the new slaughterhouse, and yesterday I went for a visit.  Considering that I was simply interjecting myself into their business day, the workers were very polite.  There were three with whom I spoke, two of whom were just part-time help for a busy week.  I talked shop with the third gentleman (whom I understand assists with managing the operation), and he shared with me how sales had been lately.  I visited briefly with a couple who had gotten an animal processed and were departing.  I also visited with a gentleman who was getting ready to purchase a lamb.  I did not get to speak in depth with the owner, as he was interfacing with the Meat Inspector onsite.  

It is funny how I still have an immediate reaction when I pull up to a processing facility and see that state car that indicates a meat inspector is onsite.  I shift into the perspective of looking at the location thinking how an inspector would see it.  When I managed a slaughterhouse, I tried to keep myself educated on regulations and learned to perceive the business as the inspector in charge would.  Oddly enough, I immediately slipped into this perspective again yesterday as I viewed this business.  I started observing scents and sights and sounds, formulating how this business would be reviewed.  There was an aroma of livestock and processing -- much as any agricultural endeavor has an aroma.  There was a dumpster onsite for waste, just as there had been for the slaughterhouse I ran.  Animals were housed under cover, and seemed content.  There were other animals in the field behind the facility.  Nothing was untoward from my initial observations.  I did not see the carcasses laying about of which neighbors have spoken, nor did I see entrails strewn across the back pasture.  The absence of buzzards indicated that there had not been entrails strewn there in the last few days at minimum.  There was no river of blood, there were no distressed animals visible, and there was nothing from my initial observation that was alarming.

I am sorry that this new business has been so distressing to some of its neighbors.  It is never good to experience change you cannot control in your neighborhood.  I would not want to live on that road myself, but for a far different reason: across the road a new subdivision with many, many houses is being built.  I would much rather live next to a slaughterhouse than next to a subdivision.  I recognize that nothing I am sharing will likely change the minds of the neighbors who are residing next to this slaughterhouse.  I would once again simply ask that they give this business a chance.  If the owner violates codes, it will be shut down.  From my work experiences, I have a great deal of confidence in the Department of Agriculture -- and particularly after all the media attention on this slaughterhouse, the Division of Meat Inspection would certainly not let issues slide at this establishment.

So . . . If the business is following all necessary codes, if the landowner has more than the minimum acreage needed for this operation, if we advocate for personal property rights, and if everything appeared copacetic from my own observations . . . why is this such a controversial issue?  I would point to two reasons.  First -- and my biggest concern relative to local foods -- as a society we have become very disconnected from agriculture, and particularly from meat processing.  It used to be that there was a small slaughterhouse in every community, and being a butcher was a skilled trade.  Now, these neighbors are a case in point that many people find a slaughterhouse to be somehow offensive.  This concerns me greatly.  Farming livestock is a noble endeavor and meat processing is a legitimate manner of providing food to our community.  Without local foods, we undermine America's food security.  I am very proud of the years I spent running a slaughterhouse, I am proud of the butchering skills that I have mastered, and I am proud that animals I have raised have fed so many people.

The other facet?  The owner of this business is an immigrant and a Muslim.  I do not want to believe that people are judging him based on those facts.  Alas, with the lack of clear evidence of regulatory violation, I cannot help but wonder if this gentleman is facing greater scrutiny due to his religion and his culture being different than the majority of the community.  It depresses me that logical objective analysis of this business has been replaced by subjective prejudice.  If the business is improperly run, it should be shut down, but not as influenced by prejudiced perceptions.  I worked too hard for too long at a legal slaughterhouse to have any patience for those who are outside of code.  Conversely, knowing how difficult it can be, I want to support others who approach this business legally.

I started this blog pieces hours ago as I waited on my SUV to be repaired.  I finish it having come into the house to sit down for lunch at 9:30pm.  That is my reality as a farmer.  When a day is difficult on the farm, it is my responsibility to manage it.  My day started when I responded to my neighbor Joseph's request for assistance with a goat.  I headed to his family's home to attend to the goat with the injured hoof.  As I drove back to my farm, I realized a ewe was down in the field.  As I tried to move this very pregnant sheep, my neighbor David drove by and offered his help.  He was obviously on an errand, but immediately pulled in to offer help when he saw me struggling.  I nursed the ewe all day, thinking that she would feel much better after delivering her lambs -- only to lose her late afternoon.  This triggered an emergency c-section in the hope of saving her babies.  They were big & they were beautiful, and alas they were already dead.  

I like days that bring healthy new babies.  I detest days that involve painful losses.  After the loss of the ewe and her lambs, I still needed to bury them.  I managed to drag the huge mother sheep only a few feet when I realized I could not get her out to the compost area by myself.  There in the yard, I managed the easiest solution, which was to remove her internal organs & front legs and carry them separately.  I am very honest about the work which I do, and the reality of the difficult parts of farming -- but you never know how someone could judge you if they do not take time to learn about what you are doing.  If someone photographed me dismembering a sheep in the barnyard, it would have looked quite questionable, even though it was a situation that is easily explained.  

Farming is life, and it is death.  Farmers work long hours, in difficult conditions, for little pay.  I have given my life for this farm.  I work every day to look after the animals in my care.  It is not easy, in any way.  There are beautiful moments that keep me going, and struggles that are overwhelming.  No one can prepare you for what it is like when you yourself have to end the life of an animal you love because it is suffering.  It is only through life experience that a farmer comes to understand their own ethics in raising animals for meat, and finding peace with the circle of life.  There is no text book and no professor that can teach this.  And there is no training for a farmer to find the strength to go without their own medical care and groceries, because they have put the needs of their animals first and exhausted their financial resources.  This is the reality of farming.  It is tough, especially for someone who does it alone.  Most farmers I know work with their spouse, or their parents, or their siblings, or their children.  I do not have those options, and thus I have even more appreciation for the help of my neighbors.  

I could not operate this farm without the kindness of my neighbors, and I try to reciprocate.  They are not perfect -- and I am certainly not perfect in any way, not as a neighbor or a farmer or a Christian -- but we help each other as we can.  I am absolutely sure I have done things which they have questioned.  As if butchering sheep on the lawn is not crazy enough, I am notorious for doing the morning chores in my bathrobe & pajamas.  Despite such eccentricities, my neighbors have been supportive of me and my farm.  We have different faiths, we have different families, we came to this community at different times.  And we support each other despite such differences.  I cannot imagine if my neighbor Joseph had told me this morning of his goat's injury, and I did not respond because we are of different faiths.  I cannot imagine if my neighbor David had watched me struggling with the mama sheep in the field, and immediately jumped to conclusions that I was an unethical farmer.  When you are a farmer -- when you live in the farm community -- you will be much more successful if you learn to work with and support your neighbors.

Friends, judging others without trying to understand them is unacceptable.  When you see something that concerns you, ask about it.  Learn.  Expand your horizons so that you can better discern a situation.  Value those around you.  My farm would not exist -- I could not exist -- without the good people who help and support me.  They have taken time to learn who I am and what I value.  I owe it to these friends to offer the same to the others in my world.  Complaining is an easy route that takes no effort.  Learning does take effort, but makes life more worthwhile.  It took time out of my schedule for me to actually go and interact with the people at the new slaughterhouse, but I am glad that I investigated the situation myself to be able to better understand it.  I want to be a person who offers this courtesy to others -- not someone who judges a situation without trying to better understand it.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Finding Meaning on this Anniversary

I have been deeply affected today by the emotions of the anniversary of 9/11 -- much more so than I would have anticipated.  Perhaps it comes from the reflective mood of turning forty this year, and recognizing the changes in my world since 2001.  This summer, at the World Food Prize Hall of Fame, I saw a photographic exhibit called Forty Chances.  These were international images centered around the concept that a farmer has approximately forty seasons farming in their life.  If we start around the age of twenty and have the ability to farm full-time until we are around sixty, we get forty chances.  And thus, I am realistically half-way through those chances.  Based on my grandmother's genetics, I might get a few more.  Based on my mother's experience, I am well beyond halfway.  I can recall my grandfather looking at me as a young person, and saying, "It goes so fast.  It goes SO fast."  Virgil Harrison was -- as always -- correct.

My life was in a state of transition in 2001.  My father had passed away that June of 2001, and was buried in the family plot in Brooklyn.  I could never have conceived of how the city of his birth would change so much so soon.  That summer I was trying to make some decisions on my next steps in life, as I considered returning to school to study education.  After university and a year in Washington, I had moved back to the farm in the hopes of being a help to my grandmother.  My grandmother was aging, but was still in good form.  I suggested to her that we take a road trip that September to visit friends of hers in Wyoming, and see again many of the favorite places we had visited on trips during my childhood.  And so began a three week trip westward.

On the tenth of September, we stayed overnight in Valentine NE.  It was one of the traditions of a Harrison trip out West, that we would visit Young's Western Wear in Valentine.  On the morning of September eleventh, I awoke fairly early, made coffee in the room, and then turned on CNN for the morning news.  The first tower had just been hit, and Grandmother & I watched in shock thinking it was a dreadful accident.  Then the second tower was hit.  I jumped in the shower, and by the time I was out of it, the news was breaking of the plane which hit the Pentagon.  It was profoundly clear that we were under attack as a nation.  I tried to reach my mother on the new cell phone I had gotten that summer, but could not reach her.  How terrible to not be able to reach one's mother and hear her voice!  It is a painful emotion to which I have had to become accustomed in the last decade.

Grandmother wanted to turn back home from our trip, but I encouraged her that the safest place to be was likely in the middle of nowhere . . . and the open roads of Nebraska fit that bill.  We stopped by Young's Western Wear, which had radios playing the news as visitors somberly perused the merchandise.  We continued west, and then cut north to the Pine Ridge Reservation to pay our respects at Wounded Knee.  At the cemetery there, atop a high hill, I finally had cell reception again -- and that was the moment when my mother called.  She had received my panicked message on her answering machine, but had been outside with the sheep all morning.  I ended up being the one to tell her that our country was under attack.  

Grandmother & I travelled onward through Nebraska, and arrived in Torrington WY that evening to visit her friends Marion & Connie.  Throughout the trip, the attacks were pre-eminent in our minds.  Grandmother spent much time reminiscing about the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and how that had impacted her world as a young woman.  We saw CNN's coverage of a rescue from the tower rubble several days later while having lunch at a tiny diner in South Pass City.  We watched the national memorial service from a hotel room in Idaho Falls.  We visited my friends Conny & Don in Idaho, who were still trying to learn if one of Don's friends had survived.  I will always associate that trip and the attacks so closely.

Fifteen years later, what makes a deep impression on me is how my life has changed since those days.  My grandmother -- my travel companion, the woman who helped to raise me -- has passed onward.  My mother, who should have had so many more years, passed long before her.  My mother's husband, who was working with her in the barn on 9/11, has chosen not to be a part of my life.  At the age of 25, life seemed so full of possibilities, even at the most dismal times.  At 40, life seems a frustrating & beautiful struggle to overcome the chaotic nature of this world.  I no longer believe that everything happens for a reason.  Man was given free will, and thus the freedom to make horrific mistakes and commit terrible acts.  Yet, within each of us is deep reserves of strength that we do not even fully know until we are tested.  These reserves of emotional iron allow us to overcome terrible struggles & atrocities.  The human spirit can and will triumph.

This morning at church, we ended the service with prayers for those lost from the attacks of that terrible day.  I found myself crying while reflecting on those lives, in particular those first responders who bravely turned toward the trouble.  I did not lose anyone I knew personally, but as I age I understand better such loss.  Life is so short, and as we mature we know more keenly the stakes and we are gifted with the ability to reflect.  At the age of 25, I would have asserted that by now I would be married with a big family.  I always thought marriage & family were my calling.  Life is unpredictable, though, and that was not the path I was given to walk.  At nearly 40, I can assert that while this was not the life I wanted, it is the life which I have -- and I want it to have value.  None of us know how long we might have, or what day may be our last.  And thus it becomes all the more important that we live each day in a way that makes our life represent something worthwhile, that helps to improve the world around us for those we love.

In reflecting on this anniversary, I do not want those who committed the atrocities or the sense of fear that arose from such acts to be our lasting impression of 9/11.  Rather, I want the memory of those who gave their lives to be our lasting recollection.  Their lives were all cut too short.  Many of them lost their lives protecting others -- from the first responders who ran into the scenes of terror to the brave souls who brought down United 93.  We must honor them by being people of character who strive to make our country a better place.  All of our lives turn out different than we expected, and so many of them end far too soon.  I try to use the opportunities I have with the young people around me to teach them perspective on life, an understanding of history, an appreciation for hard work, and a love of their fellow man.  I want them to be people of character, people who are ready to face the challenges that life will throw their way, people who would be brave enough to sacrifice when called upon.  We must prepare our young people for the reality of the struggles they will face, while equipping them with the courage they will need in this life.  For we need young people who will be like those first responders who saw people in trouble and ran to them to help . . . Not reluctant individuals who merely pull out their cell phones to record such trouble.