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9/11 Where were you?

September 11, 2011

I suspect this will be the question our generation shares, as we do the crash of the Challenger and as our parents do the assassination of JFK. Today marks the 10th anniversary, and the blogosphere will be replete with commentary. Here’s mine…

We were in Turkey. Having just moved there with a one year old, we were waiting for our shipment of worldly possessions to arrive while starting to fix up our newly rented, empty apartment. We had befriended an electrician in our daily walk from where we were staying to where we would be moving and on this day, 10 years ago, we passed by our friend in the early evening. He seemed frantic and pulled us into his little shop.

I remember entertaining Aidan with hardware parts while the three of us and the shop owner from next door watched in horror the tiny TV screen in the smoke-filled electronic store in Istanbul, Turkey. A quick mental scan of the location of family members made me feel safe, but Chris’ family should get out of Denver and, was Charlottesville, VA too close to D.C.? Weren’t we all wondering, how wide spread would this be?

Our electrician friend spit on the ground, cursing the Arabs, and then turned to us in complete sincerity and utter compassion. He was so sorry for us, his American friends. Later that night, as we took a taxi to expat friends gathering fellow Americans to watch CNBC, the cab driver expressed a similar sorrow. Our Turkish community was shocked and saddened, right along side us. We had never felt more safe.

This morning we gathered around our usual Sunday morning pancake breakfast, with the goal of talking about 9/11 with our kids. We knew without prior collusion that our emphasis would be loving Muslims and not living in fear. A recent email exchange with a family member, filled with racism, had served as a searing reminder of how close such hatred lives.

Ironically, I have just begun The Help, an enormously popular book/movie about black maids in white homes in Mississippi in 1962. It is odd that my mind goes to South African apartheid as a point of reference, rather than the Jim Crow laws of the American south. Nelson Mandela is more recent, and Africa more “understandable” a place of such segregation. I think of Nazism and can’t imagine genocide, yet it continues. I think of Rosa Parks, and can’t imagine such repulsion of someone because of skin color, race, or religion, and yet it persists… in our own family.

If there was one thing we impressed on the kids today, it was that the actions of Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden do not inherently represent the beliefs of all Muslims. We stressed the significance of this day in American history without making it all about our country. Terrorism exists everywhere… and is fueled where there is fear, hate, and lies.

I have no doubt our absence from America during 9/11 and for the following 6 years has altered our perspective. But there it is. Where were you?

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