Mandan News

Brian L. Gray: Having the need for something new

My most recent vacation was uneventful, as I didn’t go anywhere or do anything. Instead, I spent the entire time inside my head. But I always have a fun time in there. It’s not always pretty, but it’s never dull.

I often go to see my sister during vacations. She used to live in Phoenix, but now she’s in the Peace Corps, in Azerbaijan. And that doesn’t appeal to me at all. So this vacation I did absolutely nothing.

I soon discovered that agreeing to do nothing ends up opening up a world of opportunity. I could, in fact, do whatever came my way. If something came up, I’d be free to do it. One idea was to go to Medora and rent a cabin, and live just like Thoreau for a few days. Another idea that popped into my head was going to New York. I’d been planning to go there since college with a friend of mine, but he’s always broke, so I have no idea when this plan will ever emerge as a reality. I figured until he actually learns to save money, why not go solo?

Without knowing it at the time, I realized later that if I did this, I’d be flying into New York on Sept. 11, exactly 10 years after the tragedy. What better way to prove that they didn’t get to us than by flying on that day, I thought.

This idea got very close to happening, but the plan came to a screeching halt once I found out I was scheduled last minute to work on Sept. 11 at my weekend gig. No notice either. Love that. Somehow there’s a world of difference between a four-day and three-day vacation, so I chose to stay here.

I also didn’t want to be the sort of person going to New York just to say they were there on the 10th anniversary. That wasn’t my intent. I was in dire desire of a new experience, a new location. A new feel, new sights, new atmosphere, new, new, new. That’s what I was going for. And that’s exactly what I did. Doing nothing was something new to me. I never do nothing anymore. And let me tell you – it was uncomfortable, it drove me insane, and I had just enough of it to where I came back to work actually wanting to go back, while also having that feeling that the work felt new to me. And that’s really the aim of vacations anyway, aren’t they?

I actually found peace of mind that I didn’t leave. I was glad to be in Bismarck-Mandan for the 10th anniversary. This was where I was when the event happened, it made sense that I would be here 10 years later.

North Dakota reacted a bit differently than most places on that day, I noticed. For the most part life continued on – only now, people had a lot more to talk about. My brother was working in downtown Chicago at the time, and once the news story hit, his entire office closed, as there was mortal worry that the Sears Tower could be the next target. He told me as he was going home, the entire city had shut down and looked like a ghost town, an eerie sight he’d never seen before.

Here in Bismarck-Mandan, I didn’t see anything shut down. I was going to Bismarck State College at the time. No classes were cancelled, but every class I went to that day spent the entire hour talking about what was going on.

I was in the BSC Union when I watched the buildings fall. I was sitting next to a friend of mine, Kelly. She and I used to hate each other’s guts back in junior high. This was confirmed in band class one day when I insulted her, and she responded by nailing me in the head with a drumstick. But by high school we patched up our differences and eventually became really good friends. We even ended up going to the Snowball dance together our senior year. It felt odd that I was in the company of someone I used to despise, but now was very fond of, while together we watched the horror on the news, and discussed the situation in the hopes of making some sense of the chaos. I wanted to learn about these people, why they hated what we represented, and Kelly and I sat there and talked about how we should learn more about them, whoever they were, and what this was going to do to us in the long run. Funny how we’re still asking these questions 10 years later.

Then later that night, I sat in a room with several strangers, as we opened our hearts and talked for several hours. We had all been cast in a play at BSC about Matthew Shepard, a young man who was murdered because some people didn’t like the way he lived his life. All of us in the room were from different backgrounds, but we all came together and found a common understanding that night. We walked away knowing that tolerance is the key to understanding others, and that condemnation will get you nowhere. We learned that what works for one may not work for another, and that things – or people – that are strange or new to you are not so bad. They can even help inspire you, broaden your views, or reawaken things you may have forgotten. And most importantly, we realized that one of the greatest things you can do as a person is to love yourself and the person next to you.

That was the 10th anniversary I was proud to remember.

A tragedy you never forget. But a beautiful moment lasts forever. There are ugly forces in life, and you never know when you’ll encounter them. The important thing is to bounce back from however they negatively impact you. But whatever comes our way, we still hold the power to decide how we perceive and what we believe.

Looking back now, I’m glad I did nothing on my vacation. I think I made the right choice in honoring that one silver lining from that day. And in that regard, I’m pleased that I stayed.