Like so many, I spent a great deal of time today thinking about ten years ago. And, like so many people, I thought about where I was when the towers fell. I was at work, had just returned from morning break, from drinking a cup of regular old tea, nothing out of the ordinary, just a typical day. Then my manager told me what was happening. Odd, just now, I can see her face, hear her words...a moment that almost seemed as if time stood still.
Few events in our lives are so transcendental...so big, and impact us with such emotional intensity that we can ask anyone, strangers on the street even, where they were when it happened, and they can tell us like it was yesterday. But that string of words from Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, "When the towers fell" is enormous.
And so it was, on that day that started like any other day. Here, in western Pennsylvania, like in NY, the sky was clear blue. The kind of day when looking skyward allows you a glimpse of heaven. But for many the world over, the events of that day brought us a glimpse of hell.
The details? Ingrained in my mind. The images? Filed away where horrible thoughts and memories are stored. Looking back, though, the lens by which we see such things become clearer and clearer. When I think of my reaction, my need to connect with my children, my family, to know they were safe, and to hug them at the end of my workday. To call my daughter at college...and then cry. Our world had been turned upside down and I tried to right it again as quickly as I could.
There was no righting it. To right it, I had to understand what went wrong...and I admit, I had no idea who the demons were who had perpetrated this harm to so many innocents. If shown a map, I could not have named the countries in the Mideast. I had never heard of Al-Qaeda. I was just this very average girl who years before had begun to turn off the news as soon as the weather was over because there was nothing but heartache on it.
So, I was forced to learn the names of people who hated us, hated all of us in America. And I watched as fear made the hate flow back the opposite way. It appeared that innocent people had paid the price for a fight that had been picked over years and years of American policy in Arab countries.
I struggled to sort it out in the days that followed while looking at a sight in the sky I had never before seen--no planes, no jet trails...just clouds aimlessly drifting by as if nothing had changed. The same thought kept going through my mind as I thought about people I knew and loved who had recently flown out of Pittsburgh, and through New York for changeovers, there but for the grace of God go I.
I wanted to figure out who to hate. I needed to know who was the enemy. I watched people dancing in the streets from Iraq to Palestine as they celebrated the fall of the towers. And I was angry. I wanted to know why they hated us, why they hated Americans, why they hated the people in the towers, the people on the planes...why did they hate America!
I heard anger and dismay nearly every direction I turned. We had been violated, traumatized, assaulted in an unfair way. I was suddenly a child again, and the word "unfair" took on a newfound weight. Once again, geography became part of the daily news and Arab names and places took the utmost importance. All the while I looked for comfort in things that felt normal, like the world could be okay again.
I worried that we might not get this sorted out for my children, for my grandchildren, that my generation had created this hatred from across the ocean. And then, what would their lives be like? Would they ever live peaceful lives, would things ever become "normal" again?
Thankfully, little by little, life defined its new normal, and it was different. An enemy was identified and it was rather ambiguous. The enemy was "terror". It wore no uniform and followed no rules of the Geneva convention. It was nameless and faceless, but it seemed that every photo was of a Mideastern face with an Arab sounding name. People became fearful of boarding planes with Arab looking passengers on them. Mosques became unwanted. There was a sudden interest in Shariah law, and in honor killings taking place here, and the world over... There were, it seemed, endless reasons to despise Muslims. I watched as personal rights eroded away under the Patriot Act, born of a need to keep people safe. I was torn, and still am.
It was a decade of my life that I had a lot of growing to do, a lot of learning to do, and I had to open my eyes and my mind if there were ever to be any kind of normal in my life, again. I spent countless hours reading the Qur'an online, trying to separate the Sunni militants from the faith of Islam. I sought understanding...why the religion proclaiming itself as the "religion of peace" had launched a war against unarmed citizens of a foreign country.
As for the answers to why? There are no simple answers. It cannot be summed up in a few neat sentences and filed away as the "reason" the towers fell.
So, ten years later, I am far from understanding. I don't know if anyone understands it...but it is not a faith that is at war with us. It is a bastardized version of a faith, taken and twisted by the minds of strangely righteous men who would see us perish in the name of their god. Once again, the fundamentalism of a religion has evolved into a perversion of a holy scripture. An agenda of hatred has been funneled through as a command from a heaven above.
I had to come to terms with it. Once, a lifetime ago--or so it seems, before the towers fell, I wrote a poem. The gist of it was this--in the end, all that matters is the love you have given. That's it, just the sum total of the love you have given to others in your lifetime.
It was put up or shut up. I either was that person who wrote that poem, or I was not.
I am that person.
I know that our innocence was stripped away on that beautiful clear-sky day. We have become less trusting and less sure that we are safe when we leave our homes. We look for unattended bags in the shopping malls, and watch for strange behavior and unknown vehicles in our neighborhoods. But loving others doesn't mean that we have to be foolhardy. We can't deny human nature; we need to remain vigilante.
American is a land of tolerance. We have been tested throughout history, and continue to be tested. I suspect we will always be tested, even if it little green men from Mars who immigrate next. Sometimes it takes some time to sort things out; we each feel the need to keep our families and friends safe. When someone is perceived as a threat, it is human nature we have to try to overcome while seeking to show tolerance. Not an easy thing to do.
Tolerance. The question of the Mosque. I was insulted that it would put it so near to ground zero, but had to support their right to do it. I still think it was a very poor choice and showed great insensitivity on the part of the Muslim Clerics who chose to put it there, touting it as extending a hand of peace. It is likely seen as extending a knife into the hearts of many who lost loved ones on 9/11, or just the many who witnessed that day. Yet, this was a test of America, albeit a brutal test.
America prevailed. You can't knock us down so hard we won't get back up.
Everyone gets a chance...at least one chance. I don't care what faith you practice (or don't), but I do insist that you understand we have separation of church and state, and that the law of your holy book gives you no rights higher than that of state law.
Bless the souls of all who died that day that started out like any other Tuesday morning. And it has taken ten years for me to get to this place. To try to understand those terrorists involved with the murders of thousands. Misguided, indoctrinated from birth forward...twisted to actually believe that killing other people can earn you a special place in heaven. Sad beyond words...for their victims, and for them.
We just have to keep on keeping on...that is the new normal. And that is the best triumph over the evil of ten years ago--to not allow it to alter our lives, to have us live in fear, or disrupt the way we celebrate life.