Saturday, September 11, 2010

Peace be with you

Photo credit: Aussiegall (Flickr)
Nine years ago, I woke to hit the snooze button on an alarm clock. Still drowsy, I caught a snippet of something as I hit "off" and settled back to sleep. It took a few moments to sink in and then I heard the shouts of my sorority sisters in the hall. A moment later, at my computer I learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center. Like everyone else, I was glued to the screen, huddled with close friends, calling loved ones. I'm a girl from the Midwest and didn't have friends in big cities like New York yet.

As I sit back now and reflect on those days, I'm reminded of the pure fear I felt. I left school to be with my family and my boyfriend back in Kansas City. We ate out with his parents on September 12th, and there was a huge wait for a Wednesday night. I guess no one was up to cooking or maybe everyone wanted to be with other people or probably most just wanted a large crowd to drown out the noise of the televisions perpetually playing the footage. In the lobby of the restaurant was a very pregnant woman, and as I sat there I felt my chest tightening at the sight of her belly. How could she do it? How she could birth a baby in this world now? And with those questions came one of my own: how could I ever do it? I was 19, it shouldn't have been a pressing concern, but it was.

The days that followed are not a blur to me. I remember them with the clarity that only a life-changing event can give you. Shopping for engagement rings the first time. Life suddenly felt more hurried than before. The constant stream of news and hushed crowds watching every where you went. The flags. But one other memory stands out. I was in a communications class at the time and if you bothered going to class at all, the professors just let you talk about how you were feeling. There was a boy, maybe 21 years-old, and he started off on war. We were going to war. We wouldn't let this injustice stand. They would answer for their crime. He was passionate and angry and excited.

And I thought, who? Who are they? And then I heard myself speaking, blurting out the thoughts that consumed me in the quiet times between active life. I told them how war meant people would die. More people would die. I had a boyfriend I loved, a kid brother, friends, classmates - would they go and die for this justice? I said I understood, but that war scared me more than terrorists. And then I said something that shut everybody up.

I told them how I imagined somewhere across the world a girl who's language I did not share, who looked nothing like me, who knew nothing else about me, was scared. She was kept awake at night by fear over what was coming now. She had loved ones too after all. She had no more knowledge of this than I did. She knew no more than I did now. Across the world, we shared this fear of what was coming. Just two girls scared at a world where we had no control.

It was silent for only a moment until the boy who talked of war told me I was wrong. They didn't think that way. They were happy. They were dancing in the streets.

And I knew he was wrong. Because morality is not dictated by religion or even environment. It can be shaped by it certainly, but there are always the odd few that spring into the world with a keen sense of who we are that nothing can taint.

Today I sit with my baby playing at my feet. My boyfriend is now my husband. My toddler son is playing at his grandparents. Life has gone on. War came and lingers still. There is a sense of almost oppressive patriotism in the air. The kind that comes once a year and lingers the rest. I don't have an issue with national pride per se, but I suppose I'm one of those that thinks of myself as a human before a citizen. One of those peculiar traits I seem to have been born with.

Somewhere people are arguing about burning a Qur'an. Somewhere people are mourning. A lot of people are still angry. A lot of people seem to be oblivious, perhaps purposely. Somewhere soldiers are doing their duties. And somewhere across the world, my girl might be remembering the fear she felt, still feels, as her children play at her feet. If she is still alive.

I'm not the frightened girl I was nine years ago. Life went one and I birthed the children I feared I could not. The dangers of the world didn't even come into the equation when we decided to have them. And today I am reminded that I brought them into a world where people can fly planes into buildings, people bomb others, people go to war. And I don't feel fear. It is something more subtle, not quite desperation and not quite hope. I have more control over my world than I did nine years ago. I can't claim to be able to elicit much lasting change in the world, but I do have the ability to do one thing.

I can teach my children love. I can teach them acceptance. I can teach them not tolerance, which is a poor substitute for genuine kindness, but friendship. I can teach them not to see different skin colors or different creeds or to hear different languages.I will teach them to have an open mind and an open heart. I will teach them that peace begins in our own hearts and that we can spread it through our interactions. I can teach them to see the best in people.

So today, I'd like to wish you peace and joy. May you be fulfilled. May your heart be open. Peace be with you, each and every one of you.


Robin Lucas said... [Reply to comment]

Beautiful writing.

I love the term you wrote "oppressive patriotism". Well said.

Tammy said... [Reply to comment]

Wonderfully said, Jenn. I sit and recall my fear, sadness and relive the moments of where I was when the first plane hit. I sit and look at where we are 9 years later, and my heart still feels heavy. The lives lost and the misinterpretation of justice through war. I hope that 9 years from now, more progress has been made, more friendships found and more love discovered.

Carla said... [Reply to comment]

that's really amazing. I know I wasn't that insightful when it happened. I was just a stupid little kid who wanted revenge.

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