On the morning of September 11, 2001 I was at home in Kansas City, Kansas awaiting the time to leave the house for a doctor’s appointment. I was watching the Today show when they went live to a camera showing the World Trade Center Towers after what they thought was “an incident involving a small plane that had hit the North Tower.” I was watching live with countless millions as a second plane hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center buildings and then watched in stunned silence as it became clear that this was more than a small plane accident. I stayed home for several hours watching the coverage. I was shocked and amazed at the depth and breadth of the destruction as the towers fell two hours after the initial incidents. At the time, I did not know that a friend from Kansas City was at a meeting in the South Tower and that she had perished. I did not know the firefighters and police officers running into the buildings to help others but was stunned by their bravery. I did know people who lived in New York and was nervous about their safety. It was a rough morning for all. Then we learned about the additional attack on the Pentagon and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA. I was terrified and I was unsure how far the attacks would spread. Many in our country and around the world felt the same way.
The news was devastating. How had this happened? Who had done it? Why had they killed so many? Where was this event taking our country? These and many other questions hit me all at once and stayed with me for some time. Like others – I did not have answers.
In the days and weeks to come, we would learn that Al-Qaeda, an extremist group of Muslims, had perpetrated the attacks and that nearly 3,000 people had perished – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Americans, Israelis, Canadians, Brits, Indians, transit cops, firefighters, police officers, office workers, restaurant employees, investment bankers, secretaries, lesbians, gay men, married people, singles, and others representing 372 foreign countries.
The effects of the attacks of 9/11 are still being felt in the US and beyond. The health of many who survived the attacks and those who worked in rescue and recovery efforts has been greatly affected as well. Lower Manhattan will never be the same, neither will the US. The people who lost loved ones on the planes, at the Pentagon, and in the attacks on NYC will continue to deal with their loss their entire lives. There are children who are growing up without their parent and young people are getting married without their Father or Mother to be there with them. Spouses are living without their beloved partners. There are families who have never recovered from the loss of the bread winner in their home. The lives lost in wars against Al-Qaeda cannot be replaced and their sacrifice must be honored, but the war on terrorism continues to go on without much evidence of it ending any time soon (despite the death of Osama bin Laden). The cost of these efforts on our economy is immeasurable.
So what have we learned? Many still believe that all Muslims are evil and that Islam is a violent religion because of the extremists who led the attacks. Many still believe in conspiracy theories that the US might have even been part of the attacks in some way. Many continue to distrust anyone who looks “other” than themselves when boarding planes. Many continue to have their lives affected by the hate that marred that terrible day.
But this year – the 10th anniversary of the attacks – I believe it is time to think differently. It is time to finally turn the page on hate. It is time to stop believing the worst about others based on their religion or other differences (real or perceived). It is time to celebrate our shared human experience. Others have unfortunately shared our experience in the last 10 years – with terrorist and hate attacks in Mumbai, Norway, the UK, South America, many countries in Africa, Indonesia, and too many others. We are not alone in our grief and indignation.
But we can be united in our love for one another, our acceptance of our differences, our calls for justice, our desire for peace, our honoring of our heroes, and our belief in the human spirit. On this 10th Anniversary of 9/11 – I choose peace, love and acceptance – all tempered with a cry for justice in all things.