Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Decade Later

A lot has changed in the last 10 years.

Like any other American I’ve ever talked to, I still remember vividly every detail of this day ten years ago. I remember where I was at 9:47am EST. I remember what I was wearing. I remember who I was with. I remember how I felt, and the overwhelming confusion and disbelief I experienced as the day seemed to move in slow motion.

It amazes me how much I remember about that day, and how the days, weeks and even months that immediately followed seemed to do so in slow motion. I was, after all, still a child. A youth of 17 years that thought I was all grown up and ready to take on the world. I had just begun my senior year of high school, and I was excited about venturing out into the world I (thought I) knew as I prepared for graduation the following May.

Yes, I remember it all with amazing detail. And yet it isn’t the details alone that I keep thinking about today: its how those details shaped, molded, changed me from the inside out. And in a strange way that I haven’t quite figured out how to articulate, I can’t help but be honest and say that I am grateful for the ways I have changed as a result of this terrible tragedy.

My eyes were immediately opened up to a world beyond my local community: I’ll confess I’d never gone out of my way to engage with national or global news, and it wasn’t readily available in the small, contently isolated town I lived in. For the first time, I realized there was a world of people out there who hated my country I’d been raised to love, and even more difficult was the realization that those people also hated me, purely because of where I was born. They didn’t know that really, I was a good person and didn’t want to do anyone harm. And they didn’t care about the individual stories of the people in those planes, the World Trade Center, or the Pentagon, either. Following from this realization, I also had another first: for the first time, I began to question our administrators, Republican politicians (I’d been raised to always question Democrat ones), and “defense” techniques.

I had a lot of questions.

The most powerful questions I immediately and unexpectedly faced came from my adversity to the hatred I was surrounded by. In the following days, weeks, and now years, I heard many racial slurs and ethnocentric statements referring to all people from the Middle East - especially “those Muslims.” I admittedly didn’t know the first thing about the Middle East or the politics around it. But Muslims? I kept hearing how terrible and hate-filled and anti-America they all were… and yet I couldn’t forget the details of my morning of September 11.

I couldn’t forget that since it was my first day back to school post-knee surgery, I got there early so I didn’t have to fight the hallway traffic on my crutches. I was just getting settled when my friend Basim came running in going on about details about some big accident at The World Trade Center in New York City. He turned the television on and we watched in horror as one building burned… and seconds later we watched the second plane go into the other tower…

I remember the details of lots of emotion, horror, confusion and fear that followed. I remember crying together with that small class, Basim included. and I remember that he was as confused and sad as any of us. I also remember that Basim seemed to fill in gaps for the many questions I had in my admittedly naive awareness of the world. You see: Basim already had a global perspective. I’d never thought much of it before, but Basim was from Pakistan. And he is a dedicated to his faith tradition: Islam. I had always respected him for this, especially in our white, “Christian” community.

So if Basim (and his family) were the only Muslims I’d ever met, and they were great, trustworthy, honorable people: then how could the world suddenly be afraid of and full of hate toward all Muslims? That certainly wasn’t my experience…

My naive questions have proven to be incredibly formative in the years since then. Instead of buying into the fear I’ve been sold, I have continued on living my life... working adamantly against that dreaded 4-letter F-word: Fear. Instead, I work toward living into Faith... and the love of ALL God has called us to...

I made the mistake of stopping and watching television for about 5 minutes this morning. I took a moment to mourn with the mourners. To listen to the sad voices reading names. To hear an interview clip from “the last survivor” who was pulled from the rubble. These stories are moving, and sad, and did their job of making me emotional, bringing me to tears as I relived those dreadful moments with the rest of the country…

and then I walked away. I couldn’t watch any more. I don’t want to forget (I never could) - but it isn’t healthy to re-live it, either. It was a terrible enough day to live through once. We can’t do it every year. I know I can’t. Not even on the 10th anniversary.

But I couldn’t let my sadness go, and I couldn’t figure out why.

So I moved on and walked to my boarding gate to take a seat. That’s right: my boarding gate. Today, on a day that most of my fellow citizens are most afraid to fly, I am not only flying, but flying into Washington DC’s National Airport: where my plane will touch down on a landing strip right next to the now fully-repaired Pentagon…

Why fly today? For one, I’ll be honest: it was convenient. and I didn’t really think about it when I booked the flight. I did realize it in plenty of time to have changed it: but why? To let  fear win? I do not believe in fear. Especially not this irrational, media-induced fear we have been sentenced to live with. On the contrary, lets be honest: security is so high today that it’s probably one of the safest days to fly.

So I am on my plane as I write this. And as I do so in an intentional stance of my rejection of the fear many want me to have, I do remember those whose lives were lost in 2001. But my sadness does not stop there.

Instead, most of my sadness is focused on the survivors. It is wrapped up in remembering victims of the fear-induced hatred that has engulfed and changed so many of my fellow American citizens.

The country I live in and that I am proud to be a citizen of is one whose citizens spent hours building sandbag walls around every house in my home community when they were threatened with flood waters. It is one that wasted no time arriving to help victims of the multitude of tornadoes that hit this past spring… And that took care of and celebrated with my teammates and I small town after small town when we were hot, hungry, thirsty and exhausted while riding our bicycles across America in the heat of summer.

That is my favorite picture of the America I love. It is vast and diverse and embraces the joy of community as we were able to realize that really: no matter where you come from, we are more alike than different.

The America I truly love is the one that opened my eyes up to the reality of the world as I watched the Twin Towers fall. As I watched people on the other side of the world dancing in the streets because we were suffering (an image I regrettably saw in reverse when Osama Bin Laden was killed…), I knew what it felt like to be on the receiving end of such hatred for the first time. Living in my naive bubble in my small town in South Dakota, I really did not know that people hated our country, culture and people until that day.

So as we look back an talk about “10 years later” - that is what I keep thinking about. About how fear and anger have consumed much of our society. I wonder (perhaps hope?): is this the same as it has always been, and my eyes are more open to it now? Or, is there something we can do to stop it.

It all starts with one. As I sit aboard my American Airlines flight into DCA, I renew my pledge with you - all people of the internet (who are still reading). A pledge to do more to “act justly and love mercy” - and to walk HUMBLY with the God who has been so full of love, justice, and mercy for me.

Won’t you join me? I promise, the world will be a better place...

1 comment:

Rockinthegrass (Pete Grassow) said...

Hey Jen: this is beautifully written - and moved me deeply. Thank you.