A dear friend posted the question on social media last night – What is your 9/11 memory? The responses came flooding in, and as things are wont to happen in this day and age, my husband and I, sitting on opposite ends of the couch, both responded on our phones – our answers posting within seconds of each other.
He at the hospital, the last year of residency in midtown Manhattan, in a patient’s room when they both turned to the television to witness the horrors occurring mere miles away. He and other residents gathering together with an attending physician, who told them they may be working long hours that day as survivors of the Twin Towers plane crash would be coming in.
This he related to me in a quick phone call, as he knew I was frantic to hear from him.
And so when he came home while there was still daylight, I stupidly questioned him – Why are you home? You said you’d be busy. Why aren’t you helping treat the survivors?
Because there were so few to treat, he said.
And I, home that day in our apartment across the street from the hospital with Lil D. I also saw it on the TV, which I had switched on so that he could watch cartoons while I fed him breakfast. Seeing the billowing plumes of black smoke from tower one. Then watching in horror as a plane flew into tower two.
That was what I couldn’t forget, to this day. A plane flew in and didn’t come out. And then the towers fell.
I grabbed Lil D and took him to the roof of our building, foolishly hoping it wasn’t true. And I saw and smelled the truth coming from a few miles downtown. The smell. The burning smell that permeated so much of Manhattan, Brooklyn and other boroughs of New York City for days to come.
And the thoughts – the desperate thoughts that came to us as we prayed for those in the towers, those working in the Pentagon, those on the planes, the firefighters and the first responders, the families waiting at home, the children – please don’t let it be Muslims.
But they were.
Though calling them “Muslim” was an outright rejection of everything I know Muslim and Islam to be.
It is on this day and all the days that followed that I, as Robert Frost so eloquently wrote, took the path less traveled by. And that has made all the difference. From something I wrote last year:
On September 11, 2001, Lil D had just passed his one-year birthday. He was my only child at that point. We were one year away from a discussion with my pediatrician about my worries concerning his development that landed us in New York City’s early intervention program; two years away from that difficult summer when I was fully pregnant with Amal, getting Lil D evaluated by an NYC special education agency and learning he had the speech and language of a six-month old baby (though he was three), and finally sitting in the office of the head of Behavior Developmental Pediatrics at Beth Israel Hospital in downtown Manhattan, being told that Lil D had autism.
I didn’t know this storm, this earth-shattering, life-altering personal change was coming to our lives when I sat in my apartment that day, with Lil D crawling in front of me as I helplessly watched on TV the storm, the earth-shattering, life-altering global change that came as the towers fell. …To be a Muslim in New York City in those days following 9/11 was probably the best place to be an American Muslim. New Yorkers were hurt, devastated and took comfort in each other – New Yorkers of all faiths and creeds came together. In the following months, I witnessed the greatness of Americans, the attributes that truly makes this a great nation – resilience, strength, freedom, tolerance, love.
On September 11, 2013, I sit in my home in Virginia, now a veteran journalist and editor covering Muslims (and Islam) in American for 12 years. Mom to three children now, with Lil D’s profoundly severe autism shaping every facet of our lives. Blessed to have all this, struggling with all this.
This earth-shattering, life-altering personal change. This earth-shattering, life-altering global change.
Twelve years later, with our privacy all but gone, with too much hate still looming, with Islamophobia at its worst, with the NYPD profiling and targeting (without provocation) Muslims, with Osama bin Laden dead but Al Qaeda still very much a threat, with some so-called-Muslims still doing or plotting to do hateful things, with so many other Muslims working hard to tell our own stories, live the beauty of our faith and just live our lives as good citizens, neighbors and members of our communities …
With a vulnerable child who is still nonverbal and has so many difficulties and challenges.
How did I get here? How did we all get here? How do we keep praying when often it feels like too much. Too much in the past, too much in the present, too much to come. I think of the prayer offered by Imam Abdullah Antelpi two years back:
God of wisdom and compassion, You create eventual blessings out of every kind of evil. Make us instruments and agents of such creation as we strive to turn the post-9/11 challenges into opportunities and blessings for others and ourselves.
God of mercy and grace, we bring up the immediate victims and their loved ones of these heinous acts into your attention. Be their light in these moments of darkness and difficulty.
God of hope and glory, do not let our hopes overcome by our fears. Do not let our souls crippled by despair. Be our source of hope and guidance in these times of sorrow and mourning.
Oh God, if we forget You. Do not forget us.
In your most Holy and Beautiful names we pray. Amen.
Fa inna mal ‘usri yusra. Innal mal ‘usri yusra. Verily with hardship there is ease. Verily with hardship there is ease.