For the past five years in which I've been blogging, I've offered up 9-11 tributes here on Rox and Roll. In some ways, these posts are the hardest to write, since we lived in the greater NY area and saw, smelled, and felt the devastation of these attacks from too close-by. In other ways, these posts write themselves, for I just let myself share what I'm feeling a little more freely than usual.
This year, much of what's in my mind to share are snapshots and bits and pieces, not so much of the Towers falling but, rather, of friends -- and not so much of friends who perished that day, but of friends whose lives were changed forever, many of whom I saw at my high school reunion earlier this summer. Beyond the indescribable horrors many living friends saw that day, there are little things, like the voice of my friend calling, the one who worked on the 80-somethingth floor, telling me she's alive -- and the voice of another friend, calling to ask the fate of that one who lived as well as that of another who died, and the silence that followed. I can close my eyes and hear those conversations in my head as if it were yesterday, not a decade ago, and if there's one thing I know, it's that I'd never wish those phone calls on anyone -- and, that day, I had dozens upon dozens. I was home with my baby, and everyone knew it. I was the listmaker, the tracker of lives, and every last phone call was the same, "do you know?"
Do you know?
Over the last decade, I've had friends who stayed in New York out of a need to prove that they can survive there, friends who left in fear, and friends everywhere in between. We've had family stay on their same block smack dab in the middle of the single most diverse zip code in America (that would be Brooklyn, 11218). We moved away for work, but we still do the same thing every year on 9-11: we go to the beach. We do this because I drove to the water, ten years ago, as the horrors of 9-11 were unfolding, to get away from my ringing phone, to take in some peace in something concrete and beautiful. The tide comes in, the tide goes out, and that never changes. There are rip currents and hidden dangers, but the tide doesn't sleep. It comes in, it goes out. I breathed with the tide that day, in, and out. It was all I think many of us could do: just breathe.
A decade has passed since 9-11, and, unfortunately, I don't think a single day has passed without my remembering every feeling I had that day. I doubt a single day ever will.
I also am attuned to every feeling I've had since. I'm a person who needs to fundamentally believe that people are good and that we live in a just world, I can't help but wish that the tragedy of 9-11 hadn't given birth to war abroad as well as domestic battles that pit crosses versus mosques. I've heard more hate in the past decade directed toward "others" than I've heard in my life -- hate directed at some of my friends, just for being born Muslim. It is sometimes very hard to bear the amount of hate that came out of that day; hate has no part in its legacy.
Fortunately, our alma mater started a scholarship fund in honor of our lost friend, and the legacy of a boy from a hardworking single mom in New York going to prep school and a fine college then ending up working atop the world, at Cantor Fitzgerald, can be remembered through the recipient of his scholarship: another kid given a chance. And each year, what I hope for that kid is that he sees a day when people aren't judged by the color of their skin, or by their creed, but by the content of their character -- something Martin Luther King Jr. called for decades before these attacks, in a time when those who were black, like my lost friend, were held to a different standard, just like American Muslims are today. It's just not right, and we owe my friend, and his scholarship recipient, and each other (in general) better than that.
Thus, this year, I offer an affirmation from the United Presbyterian Church, the church of my childhood, based on Dr. King's teachings:
I refuse to believe that we are unable to influence the events which surround us.
I refuse to believe that we are so bound to racism and war, that peace, brotherhood and sisterhood are not possible.
I believe there is an urgent need for people to overcome oppression and violence, without resorting to violence and oppression.
I believe that we need to discover a way to live together in peace, a way which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of this way is love.
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. I believe that right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.
I believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.
I believe that what self-centered people have torn down, other-centered people can build up.
By the goodness of God at work within people, I believe that brokenness can be healed. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid."
I offer this post in memory of all of those affected on 9-11, and especially in memory of Todd. Friend, rest in peace.