"Do you remember were you were?"
My mind slowed down. The mood in the fast-paced kitchen shifted and I stood there trying to formulate a response. I was at the New York School of Urban Ministry and we had been carving turkeys and putting together Thanksgiving dinners "to-go" for the city's homeless. The chef was loud and had a contagious sense of energy and humor. His serious question caught me off-guard.
"He wants to know where you were on 9/11" one of the boys from my group tried to help me.
September 11th, 2001. I was aware we could not compare experiences because his was of an intensity that I could hardly begin to comprehend.
"I was home. Upstate." I told him. More specifically I was thirteen and I was here in Northern New York. Vaguely if aware of the World Trade Center and its significance. I had never been to New York City. But I remember sitting in the living room glued to the TV. My Mom had been making bread. We ate it for lunch- still in front of the TV.
"Do we have to do school today?" I don't remember her answering me. We just sat there- my mother and my siblings and I all day in front of the TV. New words filled my head: Al-Queda, terrorism, hijack. Everything was burning and the images were un-erasable. Fear exploded into our consciousness and like a little girl I was scared at night again. There was a world that acted in ways I was unaware were possible. If that was true, then monsters could still be in the closet; waiting.
I do not know if we live in a heightened reality now because the first time I ever got on a plane was in a post- 9/11 world. My exposure as a young adult to the world began shortly after this new world came into being. Fast forward nine years and the tension is ever present. The media is full of discussion on whether or not an Islamic Center should be built two blocks away from ground-zero and a little-known preacher is suddenly having conversations with our President Obama on whether or not he will burn the sacred text of a religion I have to question his understanding of. Fear is mixed with remembrance. Ignorance and extremes are folded into true understanding. What will we chose? How will we proceed? We can't continue burning...
I am not suggesting I hold the keys to world peace, to healing or understanding. The situations we face as a nation are multi-faceted and layered in complications. I understand that terrorism must be taken seriously. But I have to admit that there is something that makes my heart ache when September comes and it seems we're fixated on anti-Muslim demonstrations and fundamentalism. I find the idea of burning the Qur'an profoundly disturbing.
I want to remember and honor those whose lives were taken. I want their families to know that there are so many whose hearts go out to them. I want to say I remember.
His face was so sad. So serious. A New York City native, he knew people who had died that day. He remembered every detail and here he was making turkey dinners for the homeless. I did not know this man well but I can assume he was aware that he was serving a population that represented several different races and ethnicity and people of all religions. I also have reason to believe that his faith informed his actions. He somehow took his pain and confusion and acted thoughtfully. I can only hope that as my life continues I do the same. He didn't forget. He remembered and I am left with the question:
Could it be that it's not if we remember or not (because we will) but how?