Monday, September 11, 2006

O.K., So Here's My Story...

I wasn't going to participate in the 9/11/2001 remembrances today as well as those that have been occurring for the last week. I haven't listened to Bush's speeches, read the newspaper, listened to NPR, watched any of the T.V. specials, or any of the Hollywood movies. But I visited a kindred spirit's blog today and realized that there are still people in the world that do not know my story and it is also a story that needs to be told.

First of all, I want to make it known that I was very lucky. I did not lose any relatives or friends on September 11, 2001. Not any that I am aware of anyway.

I had moved to New York City two weeks before. It had been a draining decision. I had returned from doing human rights accompaniment work in Guatemala in April and had spent the summer unsure what my next step would be. By August, I had decided that I would stay in the Northeast so that I could be near my family. The members of my community in Guatemala were constantly asking me about my family. Seeing their relationships with each other, I felt that it was important to spend time with mine. Plus, my father had expressed concern about the danger my wandering spirit could have experienced in Guatemala. I decided to spend time in the safety of home.

If I am remembering correctly, September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. My new job required me to go to an orientation that lasted Monday through Thursday. The agency was not based in NYC but in Brewster, NY. I stayed in a cabin in the woods owned by the agency. It was green and peaceful.

Tuesday morning came around and I was feeling fidgety and a little bored. I remember one of my fellow coworkers went to the bathroom during the cultural competency training. She returned whispering in my ear that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember nervously laughing and the instructor giving us a questioning look. We told him what we had heard and he disbelievingly turned on the television.

We spent the rest of the morning watching the television. Maybe the whole day but I can't quite remember. At some point, I remember my coworker and I talking a walk around the farm that was part of the agency. She was the good social worker and listened to me.

I was full of a plethora of emotions. I was upset. People had died. They were basically massacred. I also knew that by chance, I was not taking my usual subway below the World Trade Center that morning. Funny, and my father was so worried about my safety in Guatemala. The real danger was coming home. I also remembered that hundreds of thousands of indigenous Guatemalans were massacred in the eighties and early nineties too with the international community paying very little notice. That is why I had been there. I was also hopeful. I felt that now that U.S. citizens knew what such numbers of loss and grief felt like that they would stand in solidarity with the people of Guatemala and all of the world that were dying and suffering. And we would finally stop trying to solve our problems with violence. I had such hope. There was a reason why I was in a cultural competency training when the plane crashed into the tower. We were finally going to feel empathy for one another.

When my cell phone started working again, I had lots of phone messages to answer. Luckily, my parents knew that I was safe. It felt so strange being in a peaceful cabin surrounded by trees every evening.

I came home to the sound of ambulances and smoke. My office was near Bellevue Hospital and I went to see pictures of all the missing loved ones. There were so many of them. I took the subway, a different train to Brooklyn, and as we crossed the bridge we, all the passengers and I, looked over at the gap that had been the towers and the smoke rising from it. We were a unified "we" on that train. We all looked each other directly in the eyes in a way that I had never done before and would never do again on a subway car in NYC. We all experienced the horror together.

Friday night, I went to a vigil in Brooklyn. I wanted to mourn for all those who lost their lives, for all those who were missing, and for all of the loved ones who waited to know. I poured all of my empathy into that candle that I held. I remember signing songs, beautiful songs as I looked over the water at the smoke.

And then someone started signing the national anthem and everyone joined. Everyone except me. I could not open my mouth. At that point, I did not know why I could not open my mouth, I just couldn't. It remained closed and silent amid all of the voices. I felt very alone and confused.

The next week, I spent every evening after work at Union Square. I listened to Buddhist monks sing and watched the flickering candles as it became dark.

One night I could not stop crying. I sat on the bench and just cried and cried. A woman I did not know put her arm on my shoulder. I looked into her eyes and knew why I was crying. I was crying for everyone who lost their life but I was also crying because I knew we were going to war.

I also understood why I hadn't been able to sing the national anthem. I wanted to mourn people, fully mourn people. I also wanted to understand why this tragedy had occurred. Why would people feel compelled to lose their lives for this? What suffering had contributed to this? The national anthem, and the patriotism and vengeance that accompanied it obscured these questions for me. With the sound of patriotism in the background, I could not feel and I could not understand. I doubted that others could either.

our grief is not
a cry for war

I still have the poster taped to my kitchen door. We were encouraged to wear white. By the time we got there the planes had already been sent to Afghanistan.

The whole year that I lived in New York, the banner "An Eye for an Eye Leaves the Whole World Blind" hung from the A.J. Muste building.

I had hopes that those who died, did not die in vain. Instead, my country has continuously been at war and the Bush administration has done all it can to increase its own agenda by encouraging a culture of fear instead of dialogue and compassion.

I left New York and went to graduate school. I dealt with my confusion by interning with Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.

The people I met had loved ones murdered. While they were grieving, people came to them encouraging them to seek the death penalty. Hate was what they were encouraged to feel. But they felt no peace and closure. Finally, one woman decided to meet with one of her daughter's killers. It took a year of preparation for both this woman and the young man but finally they met. She learned that he had gone from foster home to foster home. She learned that he and the other man had escaped from their group home that afternoon. She sat and listened to every awful detail of her daughter's murder and she finally found peace. Later, she decided to start an MVFR chapter in Houston, Texas.

I still do not know why the events of 9/11/2001 occurred. I wish I did. Instead, I have unintentionally contributed to at least two wars and am concerned that there will be more in the near future. Let it be known that I do not believe in violence, ever. I just want to understand. Violence and death are not helping me understand.


Wendy said...

Beautiful Banner! I'm so happy my instruction helped.

Thank you, dear soul, for sharing your story. To think we lived in the same city and only now meet some 5 years later by pixel glow...
I too, remember the eye contact that took place after. It was the only time in 20+ years that a fellow NY'er made eye contact with me on the street or on the train.

I still avoid the news...not on this day, but every day because the violence hurts my very core. In spite of the horrors I witnessed that day, the smells and sounds of which I will never shake, my only thoughts were of peace. I was horrified by the retaliation that followed and kept thinking about the innocent that would suffer. It's discraceful. My husband and I went to the big peace rally on the east side. It was a comfort to see a sea of like-minded people flood the streets with their children.

My gratitude to you for all your hardwork, you dear, brave, soul!

I posted a link to your blog on my 9/11 journal (- which I am still in the process of restoring...not all the pages are posted)

Margaret said...

Wow. Thanks for putting a link to my blog on your blog, Wendy, and listing it under "Brave Souls." I did feel super brave. I just feel that this is my contribution. I don't have children which is a huge responsibility. You are brave for being a mother.

Margaret said...

Woops. It would help if I edited before I posted. I meant to say that I do not feel super brave.