While millions around the world were glued to their television sets to watch the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, Leon Kehl decided to go for a walk.
The Floradale resident organized a commemorative walk along the seven-kilometre Elmira Lions trail starting at 2 p.m. last Sunday as a solemn act of remembrance and reflection on the day. Despite the short notice, about 20 people from six different countries and four groups of faith joined in.
“I knew with the event coming up there was a lot of saturation in terms of media coverage and I felt we needed to reach out to our neighbours rather than just focusing on that coverage,” said Kehl, a father of four who moved to Floradale about eight years ago.
“If everyone who watched two hours of 9/11 coverage had taken those two hours and walked with their neighbours instead, would that have had more of an impact than sitting in front of the TV?”
He was inspired by the website 9/11walks.org, which organized similar walks in 20 different countries around the world. Kehl’s walk was the only registered location in Canada, and he was happy with the cross-section of people who came out.
Those on the walk included Muslims, Sikhs, Eastern-Orthodox Christians and Mennonites.
Ever since the attacks 10 years ago he said he was also concerned with how Muslim Canadians and Americans were coping with suddenly waking up and being viewed with suspicion by their neighbours.
“We talked about where we were on the day and our memories of it to act as ice breaker-type questions to help the dialogue,” said Kehl, who added that he knew some of the people already but most were strangers to each other.
“Just listening to individual stories really seems to connect people. It was interesting talking to the man from Syria because he ended up watching the second plane crash live on the television, and they were shocked and appalled at what was happening; you don’t always hear that.”
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the subsequent decade of war, terror and fear around the world have led to thousands of innocent deaths, but Kehl believes that the events of that day should also be seen as a watershed moment to increase our understanding and acceptance of people of other nationalities and religions.
Otherwise, history is doomed to repeat itself.
“Personally it became a trigger for me to ask ‘how did we get to the point where we hate each other so much? How we can change the myth that we have about each other and other cultures to better understand each other?’
“For me that’s how we stop this type of thing in the long run.”