I was a high school freshman goofing off in art class. Dashboard Confessional was playing on the CD player, when suddenly we heard the news that a plane had slammed into one of the twin towers. The innocence and security of childhood was shattered, and my eyes were opened to the adult world of brokenness, heartache, suspicion and hatred. Terrified, I reacted like most Americans. I frantically called home, desperate to know that everyone was Okay. I stared at the television in confusion and horror. As death tolls rose, memorials were held, and stories of heroism and lost loves emerged, I grieved and prayed.
And slowly, the smoke lifted. You know what happened in the months and years that followed. Anthrax scares, wars, patriotism, suspicion, racism, heroism and hope. Lines were drawn and I realized at 15, that things were changing–not just in America’s foreign relations, but in the culture of my country and the orientation of my heart. I had a choice: love or fear.
Today, Heather’s I Will Remember post reminded me of the dramatic changes that occurred in my heart in the wake of 9/11. After 9/11, I became aware of the world beyond America. Places like Afghanistan and Iraq were mentioned on a daily basis, and men with tan complexions and turbans populated magazine covers and news reels. As a teenager, I saw the fear and the hatred, but I wanted to respond with love. I became curious about these people. I read books about the middle east and decided (for about 3 months) to become fluent in Farsi. I poured over newspapers, hoarded Collector’s Editions of TIME and tried to understand why 9/11 happened, why America was hated so strongly.
In the years that followed, I have become increasingly aware of the rest of the world. My heart has been grieved again and again as I have learned to love the “others”. I learned that terrorism has been tearing apart countries like India & Pakistan, Palestine & Israel long before the War on Terror. I realized that many immigrants and foreigners, regardless of their skin colour, want peace and safe place to raise their children. In grade 12, I did a research project on Sudan and became adamant that the genocide in Darfur must be stopped. Slowly, my heart opened to the lives of billions. The more I learned, the less capacity I had for hatred and suspicion.
Today, I’m far from a loving and compassionate citizen of the world. I’m snarky, sassy and often judgmental. I still close the BBC News tab when I see too much heartache. I’m mostly a slacktavist, all talk and little action. But in a small way, I know I am different. I pray for an end to corruption and war. I learn about far-away places and grieve for the hurting. I never thought twice about loving a man with a foreign name, a thick accent and, from a North American perspective, Middle Eastern-ish features. Coming of age in post 9/11 America afforded me the choice to choose love or hatred. It afforded me the opportunity to become outward focused, to learn about the inequalities and injustices of the world, and to recognize that every face is a story of love and sadness and dreams and fears.
How did 9/11 change you? Where were you? Has has your world been different since that day?