I wanted to write something poignant today, on this, the 9 year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City’s Twin Towers, Washington DC’s Pentagon and, lest we forget, those who perished in the Pennsylvania plane crash on September 11, 2001. Last year, I wrote about my experience that day, working just blocks away from ground zero, watching the towers fall from my office window. This year, everywhere I look — in blog land, online, TV-land and at the local deli — there’s much focus on moving forward as opposed to looking back. Advice from individuals pressing us as a country to move on, to forgive, to use 9/11 as a catalyst for peace. I couldn’t agree more… AND less, in an unsettling sort of way. But I could not put my finger on the source of my discomfort. So I pressed myself to try and understand (because it’s my nature to do so)…
Mind you, I live within 30 miles of Ground Zero. I was working on the northern fringe of downtown New York City that memorable day… a day that I will NEVER forget as the first plane buzzed over my head, way too close to the ground, headed south on Broadway just minutes before it hit the first Tower. A historic day, a day of great human suffering and world sadness for which I had been given a front row seat. A day I watched unfurl right before my eyes… where 2000+ innocent people perished because those responsible for this heinous act of terror WRONGLY perceived that the innocent people in those buildings represented a nation that believed something different than they believe about “God”. These EVIL people who KILLED because they believed that their religious beliefs were more right than mine; more right than yours; more right than everyone else’s. They believed that their God called for such an extraordinary act of violence. And calls for such acts ongoing.
Again this year, I read and listened to accounts of that day from folks who were halfway across the world and from folks who were so close they breathed the tainted New York City air with me as they walked off the island of Manhattan… No other way out. I listened to people I know and respect from various walks of life, various political views and various religious beliefs as they expressed their point of view… I listened to what’s changed for them. How they thought we should proceed as a nation. Should a mosque be “allowed” to be built overlooking the grave site of so many innocent people, and replacing the last building standing on what’s now locally considered hallowed ground? Should all the members of the religious group shared by those responsible for this crime against humanity be held accountable? Should those directly responsible be positively represented (as part of their religious group) by permitting this mosque to be built… as a gesture for world peace?
Perhaps you’re getting a feel for my underlying sense of unease. I’m not interested in denying religious freedom to anyone (there are over 100 mosques in New York City already). I’m not interested in blaming all for the actions of a few. BUT… I don’t know…. The whole thing STILL feels like a fresh wound to me though it was 9 years ago. Still, the world is asking me, and it feels personal, asking us all as Americans to turn the other cheek. To forgive and move on with a more positive attitude. A practice I am typically and easily drawn to by my very nature. But I’m honestly torn on this one. I’m torn between honoring the principles this country was built on — religious freedom for all — and honoring those who lost their lives by such senseless violence. Building a mosque in that location is, at it’s core, merely a real estate deal. The land goes to the highest bidder, right? But that doesn’t feel quite right to me and, apparently, to so many others. Yes, it is legal to build a mosque at ground zero. But is it right to do so? Ahhh…. I don’t know exactly why but it just feels wrong to me. It feels insensitive to the victims and inconsiderate to their loved ones. That would be like allowing a serial rapist to rent a room in the same boarding house with his victims or permitting a mass murderer to build his home on the grave of those he killed. It just feels wrong to me! LEGAL, but morally wrong!
I forgive when an infraction is acknowledged. I turn the other cheek when I’m certain I’m not stupidly exposing myself to more harm by doing so. I lock my doors to prevent theft. I avoid dangerous alleys. I will take up arms to protect my loved ones. And I will defend myself and my loved ones against those that mean us harm… I feel the need to take these precautions now… STILL…I feel the need to protect my children, my loved ones, myself. I do not feel safe. Rather I feel victimized, raped, murdered by the actions taken by the perpetrators of the 9/11 terror attacks on the Twin Towers. Perhaps my reaction is natural because it hit too close to home, too close to my loved ones. These attacks directly endangered the lives of me and my family members. Perhaps those of you who watched on television versus actually living that day up close and personal don’t have that same personal sense of fear. Maybe you do. Perhaps turning the other cheek doesn’t put your loved ones in direct jeopardy of getting smacked again… It does for me! And perhaps you don’t have that sinking feeling that maybe you won’t be so “lucky” the next time. Perhaps those of you who are calling for me to lay down my arms never felt the pressing need to bear arms to protect your loved ones so directly. You don’t live with the uneasy notion that you and your loved ones are in some one’s cross hairs, that you are an innocent target for those who mean to do you and your loved ones harm simply because you do not worship the same God.
So much happened that day that even the media dare not talk about. Those who were there — not like me, who watched from 1/2 a mile away — but those who were really THERE at Ground Zero… those who walked down the stairs and out of the buildings to survive, like 2 of my cousins; those NYPD, FDNY and independent heroes who risked their lives going into the buildings to help others get out…. THEY talk of the whirring sound of bodies falling through the air followed by the thud as they hit the ground like 200-lb raindrops falling all around them. They talk about quickly coming to understand the sound and to take shelter so as not to get crushed by someone jumping to their death because that was better than burning to death. THEY speak of the roadway immediately in front of the Towers being slick with the blood and strewn with the body parts of the thousands of innocent people killed that day… such that it was hard to walk without slipping. THEY talk of months of scouring conveyor belts filled with the rubbish taken from Ground Zero looking for personal items and human remains — a wallet, a wedding ring, a piece of skin, a bone, a tooth — to try and identify victims so their loved ones could gain some closure. Bury their fallen family member. Those who perished cannot look forward. Those who lived the nightmare can’t help but look back.
They say, “History repeats itself.” That’s a scary notion… but not so far fetched to me anymore! We need to look back in order to change the future. I am inwardly conflicted. Yes, I want personal peace. But I will not turn the other cheek at the risk of endangering the lives of my loved ones… or yours. Yes, I want world peace. But not at the cost of freedom for us all!