Doing the right thing

Derrill Bodley

Photo by Larry Dalton

The terrorist attacks of September 11 had a profound impact on many Americans, but none more than Derrill Bodley, a music teacher at Sacramento City College. Bodley’s daughter—Deora, a junior at Santa Clara University, visiting friends on vacation—was aboard Flight 93 and died when that plane crashed in Pennsylvania. Yet rather than feeling the anger and thirst for vengeance that consumed many Americans, Bodley experienced a political awakening of sorts that instilled in him a compassion for all people. That reaction was further fueled by a trip to Afghanistan that he took with Global Exchange to meet with civilian victims of the U.S. bombing campaign that toppled the Taliban. Bodley and Kelly Campbell, whose brother-in-law died at the Pentagon on September 11, will be the featured speakers during “September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows,” a forum at the Varsity Theater in Davis on May 21.

Tell me about how you reacted to the news on September 11.

Some people would have been immediately angry and vengeful, and I can say truthfully that neither one of those things came to me. The first thing I realized is that I couldn’t change history, and that came on right away. I was going to have to protect my own self-preservation, and prevent myself from losing it. I knew I couldn’t change it.

This feeling absolutely solidified in my mind within two days. Two days after September 11, I was sitting at the piano and I started playing something I’d never heard before. It was a song that just came out, and though I’ve written lots of songs, that’s only happened to me one other time before, after the death of a dear friend from school.

Where did it come from?

My reaction after I finished playing it was that it had come from somewhere else, that this came through me, and some artists say this, that they’re a conduit for some other thing. Because otherwise, I’d have fussed with it and worked with it like I do other songs, but this time I played it one time through and it was done. And then I felt like I heard my daughter saying to me, “Don’t worry, Dad. It’s all right. I’m OK. Just do the right thing.” So I said, what is the right thing? And for me, the right thing is to try to find a way to solve the problem. And September 11 was a big problem.

And the right thing for you differed from how the rest of the country seemed to be reacting?

I think we’ve seen what appears to be some real vengeful and violent reactions and angry reactions and retaliatory reactions. And I would be in contrast to that.

You can ask for justice. I had this discussion with some of my classes, because I couldn’t keep it from them, and on September 11 they were practically going crazy and I had to dismiss my class. But over the next few days, we had some discussions, talking about retaliation and justice and security and all that stuff. Justice is a difficult concept.

How so?

Start with the idea of capital punishment in the first place. I’ve been asked to provide victim impact statements for the Justice Department in order for them to pursue the death penalty during the punishment phase for Mr. Moussaoui [an accused September 11 co-conspirator]. If he’s convicted, he’s going to get life without the possibility of parole, but they want the death penalty, so they invited the families of Flight 93 to supply these statements. And this is for the sole purpose of getting beyond life for Mr. Moussaoui, but the death penalty. I told them that I’m not interested.

Did you hold these kinds of political views prior to September 11?

No, I really didn’t. A lot of stuff has crystallized in my mind since September 11.

So what should be the lessons we learn from September 11?

We need to seek the root causes of the problem that caused September 11, and those root causes are the lack of respect and love for all human beings by all human beings, and both of those are difficult. The second one is the lack of peacefulness within each human being, which would lead to peace among all human beings. That’s also very difficult. In fact, I’m finding that to be the most difficult one. And the third is the lack of sharing equitably in the resources of the world without greed among all people.

Given that our country’s response has mostly been a military one, does that frustrate you?

I’m speaking out against certain aspects of it. I think that’s my duty now. It’s the right thing to do, and I know my comments resonate with some people. At earlier times in my life, there were situations that I felt strongly about but I stood on the sidelines. But September 11 changed all that. I’m not interested in standing on the sidelines anymore. I’m interested in doing the right thing, and that means, in the position I’ve been put into, speaking out. That’s why we went to Afghanistan, to try to understand what this was all coming from, and to understand the results of the bombing campaign on innocent people in Afghanistan. It’s a very serious problem.

Do you think the American people will get past their desire for vengeance and arrive at this same kind of understanding?

I think we’re in big trouble if we don’t.