From when I woke up today, I’ve felt a constant tug in the back of my mind, reminding me of this unwritten assignment. I postponed writing it, though, for as long as I could, mostly because I didn’t know what to write. Forgive me, then, if this post seems to wander endlessly and without direction (because that’s what it feels like I’m doing), but I felt I had to write something, not because it was an assignment, but because it was the right thing to do. It is, in fact, the only thing I can do. Part of the reason I didn’t know what to write all day was because I’m still sorting out my feelings about the event. It was terrible in all the ways terrible can be imagined, yet even worse. And still, it is much more than that. It is an event that affected much more than a nation; it affected the world. But more importantly, it affected millions of individual lives, including both the families with empty seats at the dinner table, and the people whose faith was sometimes blamed for it all. Ten years later, and 9/11 still resonates strongly in all of our lives. It took me ten years to begin to wonder what the world would be like if 9/11 had never happened. And it took me all of those ten years to realize to what extent 9/11 had influenced my life.
Throughout the day, I visited news websites to see their coverage of 9/11. New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, CNN. But all I saw was the headlines; the only article I actually and fully read was the article on People Magazine’s site (http://www.people.com/people/gallery/0,,20526983,00.html) that covered the stories of children who were born after 9/11, children who never met their fathers and whose fathers never met them. This story touched me differently, I think, because it reminded me that there was a world before 9/11 and that within seconds, we were thrust into a world that was thousands of miles away. The problem is, though, that these children will never know that. Their lives were marked, were changed before they were even born. They never even had a chance for things to be different. I think of everything that they’ve missed and everything that they’ve lost, and I wish I could change it. I wish we could all go back to the world before 9/11, the world where terrorism didn’t seem to exist, when I was a shy student in a sixth-grade classroom, with no worries to have in the world.
In the years after 9/11, once we grew and realized what 9/11 meant, the world not only looked different, but it looked at us differently. We were the outsiders. We were the potential terrorists. We were the believers of a jihad-touting religion. No one even knew what jihad meant, but it was an accusation nonetheless. It was an insult thrust at us as though we were all one. As though we all stood behind the acts of the terrorists. But they were the terrorists, not us. Few noticed what repercussions 9/11 had on us, and the confused identity it left us with. We were fragmented in how we were viewed and how we viewed ourselves. The phrase American Muslim may have even struck some as a paradox; we could not possibly be both, and certainly not without being a threat to those around us. As I’ve wrote in numerous essays before–though I never, I realize now in retrospect, even mentioned 9/11 in these essays–I would walk around with a smile glued upon my face, just to divert any potential suspicion, any unfriendly gazes. I didn’t like the way people stared, but I quickly knew to expect it and I knew I couldn’t change it. It was a new life, after 9/11, for many people. But it wasn’t an easier life for anybody.
Three paragraphs later, and I feel like I am still wandering in the dark with outstretched arms but nothing to hold on to. I’ve put my thoughts all down, but they make no more sense now than they did when they were in my head. I wish I could think of something poignant to write in order to commemorate each and every life that was lost that day, but it feels like I’m searching for water in a desert. I know there is plenty out there in the world, but I don’t have anything with me now. Sometimes, silence is all we have.