Monday, September 11, 2006

5 years ago

Dear Sam and Sophie,

Shortly after September 11th, a friend remarked that I should write down my memories, as surely this was a day, like Pearl Harbor, that would "live in infamy." (And I saved that New York Times issue pictured at right.) I never did write my thoughts down, but I thought I would now, on this fifth anniversary, because someday you kids might want to know what your Mom was doing that day.

I didn't even know your Dad then; we met about six weeks later. I was dating a man named Ryan, an attorney who was very politically conservative, although I was trying to see if I could love someone who was different than I was. In the end, I realized we just didn't share the same values, like your Dad and I do. September 11 helped me see that.

I used to get to work early, around 8 a.m. along with two other people who worked with me at U.S. Catholic: Carmen and Diane. I was at my desk, when Ryan called from home to tell me he had seen the news about the first tower on TV. I quickly flipped on the television in our office and we gathered around it. I was watching it live when the plane hit the second tower. By then, people were arriving in the office and the country was starting to realize this was probably not an accident.

Because Chicago is a big city, and especially for those of us close to the Sears Tower (I was a block away), people immediately began to worry that something might happen here. That fear intensified, as we saw the crash into the Pentegon and in Pennsylvania. I think the first person I called was my sister; and my mom called soon after that. She wanted me to drive to Wisconsin because she thought Chicago wasn't safe. To be honest, I briefly considered it. I still have memories of the Croatians who told me about driving out of their town before it was attacked. Those who left early were luckier.

We had a new boss in my department and she was not very good at being a boss. She was trying to reach her boss to see if she could dismiss us. I didn't wait for her permission. Outside my window I saw streams of people on the sidewalk, more than any rush hour. Some people were carrying their computer hard drives.

I spoke to a few of my close friends and decided to go to the house of my friend Amanda, just north of downtown. We walked there, in a daze. She and I and my friend Megan and Sabrina watched TV there, as the reports came in. I remember we ordered Thai food for lunch.

Later I met my boyfriend at his house, but his political analysis of it was already annoying me. He is definitely not a pacifist and quickly became very "patriotic." I remember him saying to me, "I can't believe you support the Palestinians," referring to my political views about the Israeli/Palestinian crisis after my trip there. The TV was showing Palestinians dancing in the street for joy. This was later proved to be false: a reporter told a few kids to dance, which they did, and then the video was said to be Arabs celebrating the carnage. It fueled a lot of anti-Arab sentiment.

In the evening, I left my boyfriend's and went with my girlfriends to a prayer service at Holy Name Cathedral. It was all so surreal. I had often thought about what it might be like to live in a war-torn country, having visited a few of them. I wasn't so much afraid, as I was sad.

This I remember: Fairly early on, if not that day, maybe the next, I started to get very uncomfortable with many Americans' reaction to September 11, which was to rally the troops (literally and figuratively) for our group, in an us-versus-them sort of way. There was violence against mosques, talk of closing down our borders. Everywhere you went, people wanted to sing "God Bless America." I personally don't think God blesses America any more than God blesses the rest of the world. In fact, my faith teaches me that God blesses the poor more, so in that respect God blesses lots of other countries more than America.

Even then, I think I realized I was more of a "world citizen" than purely an American one. Later, of course, this made it easy to picture my own family as an international, interracial one. Ryan and I had had many political debates before, but in the aftermath of 9/11, they were more serious. We broke up shortly after, he eventually went to work for the White House and spent time with the U.S. government in Iraq during the war. I went on to meet your Dad, fall in love, get married and to work to get you two. I'm glad it turned out how it did!

Thoughtout history there have been times that people have had to respond to horrendous evil being directed at them or their people. Thoughout history, people have screwed up that response (putting people in interment camps, more war, etc.) I can understand why. It's extremely scary to be attacked. I initially felt fear, but pretty soon after (even that day) I decided not to let the fear get the best of me. As a country, I don't think we did that, and that makes me sad. One of my goals in life is to live from love, not fear. I know it sounds idealistic, and it is. (This is one of the debates Ryan and I had). But if you only live your ideals when everything is going honky-dory, then what are they worth?

September 11 was a horrible, horrible tragedy, and I continue to remember those who died (and those they left behind). But it also was something of a wake-up call to me, and to many other "liberals" out there. It was a very hard time to be a pacifist. Many of us were galvanized not so much by 911, but by our country's reaction to it. I did not wear a flag pin, nor did I "shop" to be patriotic, as George Bush suggested. (In fact, I mailed his "tax cut" directly to charity.) Intead, I got more politically involved to try to make this world a better place. In that sense, some good always does come out of evil. Another Christian belief.

So those are my memories. I'll try to get your Dad to put some down, too. I know he spent the day with his friend and co-worker Jerry. They played video games and hung out. Your Dad is lucky to have a lot of good friends who not only enjoy having a beer, but also talking about important things. Most of them share our ideals and pretty similar political beliefs.

This reflection is much longer than I intended it to be! But I think my friend was right: It's good to put those memories down before they fade too much. One image that really sticks in my mind was the quiet in the city for the several days in which there was no air traffic. It was palpable. Scary, but also peaceful.

A lot of people remember how people were nice to one another after that. There was an almost instant super-community feeling, which I do remember. Of course, in the Midwest, there is already some of that. I do think that most Americans would not have predicted that we would be in the mess that we are now, lo five years later. Sometimes I am not optimistic about the ability of the American people to care about more than their own little lives and possessions. In the end, I don't know how much 9/11 really changed people. For me, I know it only reinforced a global consciousness that was already forming.

I often wonder what will happen if one of your countries of origin ends up at war with the U.S. What will happen if everyone hates Chinese or Vietnamese people like they did Muslims and Middle Easterners? It is a challenge for some reason I feel called to in this life. I know you will probably have mixed feelings about being "American" since you were not born here. Your Dad and I promise not to "over-Americanize" you! We will also raise you to be world citizens, ones who care as much about people halfway around the world, not only because some of them are your biological family, but because, really, we are all biological family. We in this together, for better or for worse. That, to me, is the lesson of September 11.


Nicki said...

Wow, I can really relate to how you felt post-9/11. I live in an area that is the most highly populated with Muslims in all of the US and I remember vividly watching the tragedy of 9/11 and, at the same time, fearing what reprecussions the wonderful people in our area would face. Five years later, little has improved for them (or for us, some would say). We have a long way to go in this country when hate begets hate and terror begets terror. War on terrorism, indeed.

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