That day will live in my memory.
I was eating breakfast when a neighbor knocked on the door and asked me to turn the television on. The next few hours were beyond horrific. I was hoping not many were hurt, and that the perpetrators were not Arab.
Both hopes were destroyed. 3000 people lost their lives, and the responsible killers were Arab. I watched the tragedy unfold and was in a daze for a few days. I was sad for those who lost loved ones, and for those affected by that day. Their lives will never be the same.
The next day, I went for a run to clear my head. A car passed me going pretty slow, then they stopped and both the driver and the passenger turned around. I was a little worried. I had heard of the backlash against Arab-Americans that had ensued.
Were they going to hurt me?
They eventually stopped and rolled down the window. I didn’t know what to do. It was early enough for the roads to be empty, and someone could have gotten away with shooting some Arab guy running. He was probably up to no good any way. Just look at what they just did. They flew planes into the towers and the Pentagon and killed thousands of people. All Arabs deserve to die.
I slowed down a bit expecting insults, or bullets, to start flying when the guy in the passenger seat stuck his head out of the window, smiled and said: “We just wanted you to know that we are sorry about the hard time Arab-Americans are going through.” I had seen this man in my neighborhood before, and I guess he knew I was one, not that I don’t look the part.
I was confused.
An American is apologizing to me because we are going through some stress and a bit of miss-treatment, when Arabs just killed 3000 Americans and terrorized the entire country.
An American is making a peace offering when he has all the right in the world to stop the car, get out onto the sidewalk, and insult me until he feels vindicated.
I thanked him and told him there was no need for an apology.
“We deserve it. I am so sorry for what my people did.” I said.
“They are no one’s people.” He said.
The next day, I went into the Southern Living Building where I was on contract to do photography. The Feature Editor asked me into her office. I thought they might be letting me go. I mean who would want an Arab to work for them any more?
She started by telling me how bad they feel about my wellbeing, and that they were worried about me. Then she offered a couple of things:
Fully paid-for-counseling sessions, and shirts with the Southern Living logo on them to make travel a bit easier.
Wait, counseling sessions?
Why? Who cares about me? Do they not know that thousands of people’s lives were altered, and some will actually need the help? I tried to refuse the counseling, but she insisted. I attended a couple of sessions but eventually stopped. I wasn’t the one who needed help.
Again, just look at what my people did, and here they are counseling me?
I did find value in the shirts with the logo, they came in handy as a few people on the plane looked at me with discomfort, which quickly evaporated when my shirt let them know that I work for Southern Living. There were a couple of minor incidences when someone might have said something not totally appropriate. But it was nothing. They could have beat me and I would have been fine.
Love is a strong thing.
Love can bind people together.
Love can show an Arab-American that he could be loved despite everything.
Love can bring an Arab-American to tears upon receiving help, when he needed to offer help.
Love can bring joy out of sorrow, and cheers out of tears.
9/11 will live in my memory for many reasons, one of which was how Americans treated me with dignity, respect, affection, and honor. When Americans told me I didn’t need to apologize. And when they covered me with love.
9/11 will live in my memory when I received instead of giving.
9/11 will be a day I will never forget because when humanity is pushed to the limit, it is better than anything you have ever dreamed off – totally surprising – totally stunning.
And finally, 9/11 will be a day that reminds me of great sorrow, but it will also remind me that within that sorrow, love abides.
When love comes out of hurt, it is unstoppable.