In gratitude and honor to all the fine people who have endured the undeserved, served to the limits of their strength, and prayed with all the strength in their hearts—in other words, to all the good and innocent people involved in the Boston bombing, from victims to distant observers—I decided to lift Chapter 11 of Powerful Peace and share it with the world. I pray this will provide some comfort and hope during the painful minutes and months to come.
Thank You, Mr. bin Laden
While I was still in uniform, I once had what’s called a “bad landing.” That’s what happens when a SEAL gets into an airplane just fine and jumps out of it just fine, but then experiences a less-than-optimal reunion with the planet. The spinal surgery and other consequences of this event offer an excellent segue to discuss the in-validity of the use of terror.
You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces—
my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.
These graces have carried me through difficult times and
they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined.
With close friend and Teammate Shaun Keilen in the weeks before 9/11/01. In this photo you can just make out the scar below the shadow on my throat that will be explained, below.
We’ll get back to that in a moment.
As a result of the above parachuting mishap, a surgeon sliced into my throat and shoved my trachea, esophagus and artery out of the way in order to gouge out a damaged disc from my spine. Earlier in the same operation, he had carved bone out of my hip and fashioned a replacement, which he now fit into my spine. He capped this all off by screwing a titanium plate into the vertebrae above and below the replacement, then zipped up my throat.
When the entire production was finally healed, it turned out to be exactly as the surgeon had promised: the neck was not only good as new, but stronger than before. With those two vertebrae fused into one, there is a negligible reduction of flexibility, but a generally reinforced structure. In other words, I could endure the same fall better now, thanks to this invasive and gruesome process, than with my original neck.
Again, we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Osama bin Laden was no Superman. His image may have become more familiar than those of some legitimate world leaders. No matter. He was a living myth, blown up by the real affection of a handful of admirers and an unreal mystique for millions, awed by the attacks accomplished at his instigation.
OBL must have sometimes gotten diarrhea. He must have had uncomfortable and embarrassing gassy moments, and he must have sometimes gotten a little booger on the outside of his nostril. How do I know this? Because he was human. When I teach students to “think like the terrorist” I urge them to first put the adversary into perspective. To esteem him unrealistically is to self-inflict intimidation. It is to give weight and energy to his cause, to the detriment of our own. They’re only guys, guys.
Bin Laden and AQ acted as a malevolent surgeon on the spine of the free world. With 9/11 they sliced into a global throat in hopes of finding the jugular to kill the patient.
Before I “broke my neck a little bit,” my neck was natural and average. After the surgery I was sore for some months of healing. In the end, my spine was technically (but not noticeably) less flexible. It was also greatly reinforced, better able to survive trauma similar to what had caused the original damage.
After the “operation” of 9/11, the patient (the world) was sore for a few months of healing. The patient was understandably anxious about the future and the prognosis for recovery. To the unacknowledged disappointment of the surviving 9/11 attack supporters and their McQaeda franchises worldwide, however, the end result is the same as my own surgery. These attacks did not kill the patient. The operation steeled a spine. Our world is stronger, and better prepared, to meet malevolent actors in the future.
Achilles is remembered as a great Greek warrior who was invulnerable except for a one small spot on his heel. During the news footage filmed as the attacks occurred, we can still hear one commentator’s inaccurate remark spoken in the heat of that desperate moment: terrorists had “found the Achilles’ heel of America.” This was an inaccurate analogy.
America and our world, however, are stronger than ever before.
Thank you, Mr. bin Laden.