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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Why I'll never forget 9/11

"You'd better come see the TV."
"One of the Twin Towers just got hit by a plane or better come down here and look at this."
I pulled the covers away from my face and wiped the sleep from my eyes, letting the information marinate a bit. I was stunned and I think in shock a little.
"What do you mean a plane hit the Twin Towers? That can't even happ..."
"It did, or something did. Come see!"
I rolled out of bed and descended the stairs to find Liliana and her youngest son huddled around the television, with a look of shock and terror on their faces. I knew instantly why she was more mortified than anyone else in the room: her oldest son was out of the country, visiting their family in Italy, and at a time like this, you just want your family by your side, and she certainly wanted her son to be safely home, with her.
My own family was 3000 miles away, and on rocky ground with me, barely on speaking terms, and still I wanted nothing more than to run to their side and hug them.

As I poured my coffee and staggered my way toward the TV, I heard Liliana saying "Oh! My GOD, look at..."
That's when I saw it. The second plane hit. My knees buckled and my head spun. Did I just see what I think I just saw?
I did.
I had to set my coffee down and wipe my eyes, trying to discern if I was dreaming or hallucinating or, if this was, in fact, actually happening.

From that moment on, my life has forever been changed.

There's a pre-9/11 America, and a post-9/11 America. That's a given, but what isn't often talked about is how our individual lives changed on that day.
I know mine did. My outlook, my thought process, my appreciation for those I love and for those who I don't even know has grown more than I can possibly measure or express with mere words.
Before September 11, 2001, I never thought that I would live to see an attack of that magnitude on our own soil, with our own machinery even.
Before September 11, 2001, I never thought that my country would return to such paranoia, discrimination, and prejudice as that which we fought so hard to overcome in the 60's.

I remember sitting there at work later in the day, eyes glued to the TV instead of the medication cart, holding a coworker's hand and saying, "It's gonna be OK" knowing, that awful, deep inside your gut kind of knowing, that it definitely was NOT going to be OK.
And it wasn't.

We had another coworker there that day, sitting on the other side of Linda, holding her other hand... She was from Bali. She was a Muslim. I had never met anyone from Bali before, and for some reason it surprised me that she was Muslim. I guess I had just never thought about those things, like what religion is practiced in certain areas of the globe.

And we weren't thinking about them that day either. Sakti sat there with Linda, holding her hand, crying, praying...asking Allah to bring Linda's father to her safely. We all watched helplessly while Linda tried and tried again to call her father's cell phone, home phone, office...all to no avail. It was a horrible day for everyone, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for Linda.

I can't possibly imagine what the years since have been like for either Linda or Satki...

I saw people mistaking (insert various ethnicity here) for "A-rabs" and yelling foul, disgusting and obscene things at them. I saw some of the worst behavior I've ever witnessed in my lifetime.

I also saw some of the most beautiful displays of humanity.
The pendulum swung fully both ways in the days following the attacks.
On the day after, September 12, 2001, my then girlfriend and I rode around Sacramento and saw people standing on every corner holding candlelight vigils. Strangers holding hands and holding candles and waving flags and blotting tears.

I saw children collect water, canned goods, supplies of all sorts to send to the rescue crews.

This was indeed, a day that will stay in my memory and always illicit those thick, rigid goosebumps when ever mentioned. It is a single day, a horrific event that has helped to shape who I am and who I will be for the rest of my life.

And Sakti stays in my mind today, too. Of all my coworkers, she was the one who always reached out to anyone who suffered with the most genuine, sincere, and heartfelt empathy. She was the one who never spoke harsh words about anyone else, or at least if she did, we never heard them. She was the one who never complained about how much work there was to be done. She just did it. And she was the one who never engaged in any of the numerous debates that occurred within those walls, she simply walked into another room and prayed. Sakti left an impression on me. I always respected and admired her for her gentle spirit, her caring nature, and her ability to maintain composure. She asked me once, weeks or months maybe before the 9/11 attacks, if I too prayed to Allah, and I told her I prayed to no god. She smiled and said to me,
"That's OK, Allah knows you have love in your heart."
And for her, that was enough. She accepted me and my lack of religion as is...and we forged a friendship that was based on mutual respect and trust. I know a few "Christians" who could learn a thing or two about the Golden Rule and loving thy neighbor from Sakti.

I don't know what ever happened to my Balinese friend, but wherever she is, I hope that she is happy, healthy, and not suffering the effects of the viscous Islamophobia that has plagued this country in the time between then and now. She never judge me, or anyone else, and I hope she is being returned the same courtesy.

How did September 11th change you?

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