I’m not sure what word should be the focus of this post. After I wrote this article, I decided the word, Hope. Because, I am hopeful there is another way; that we will find another way.
Hope (noun): a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
I remember the morning like it was yesterday. I had just opened the bathroom window and noticed that is was a beautiful fall morning. The trees were just starting to turn gorgeous shades of red, yellow and gold. The sun was just peaking out; yet the feeling of fall was in the air. The bathroom mirror was steamy from taking a hot shower. I like, really love, hot showers, especially in the morning to wake me up. It was early, before 6:00 am PST. I stood in the warm bathroom, looking out the window, for a minute before I walked into the family room to glance at the television; I always had Good Morning America on while I was getting ready for work. I’m not sure why, maybe I had it on for more background noise than anything. I found myself in a routine each morning where after the shower I would watch a few minutes of Good Morning America. It always was a mix of news that was somewhat important and news that was more entertaining than anything else. As I glanced at the television I thought something seemed odd. There was a banner at the bottom of the television that read “breaking news” and while I don’t remember exactly what the bar of words said at the bottom of the television or the exact words being spoken, I gathered there has been some type of airplane accident. It would be another hour or so before I would hear the phrase “potential terrorist attack”. I continued watching the television, feeling almost paralyzed, even forgetting that I was only wearing a towel wrapped around my body. The warm feeling of the shower turned to cold shivers when I finally realized I need to put on some real clothes. I ran upstairs to grab some clothes from my closet just to run back downstairs to continue watching the “breaking news”. As the pictures of the airplane crash played on repeat, I actually thought it was a clip of a movie but then my brain said that wasn’t possible. It would take me a while to comprehend what was on television. Actually, comprehend isn’t the right word as I am not sure I will ever truly comprehend what I was seeing on television. It definitely wasn’t in this moment that I even thought things could get any worse, but they did. Things got worse really fast when the buildings collapsed. The first tower and then the second tower, they both fell. The towers weren’t supposed to collapse but they just had. None of this was supposed to be happening. What exactly was happening? Nothing this morning seemed normal anymore. The morning was September 11, 2001. What I was watching on television were terrorists who took over the control of airplanes and two of the four planes that they had taken control over crashed into the World Trade Center.
My life was forever changed on September 11, 2001. It would be the first time I would ever have to stop and think about the word terrorist. Maybe it was this morning when I finally grew up and realized that the world had really bad people in it. I was 23 years old and really up until now nothing this bad had ever happened in my life. It would be 13 days later when I found out a friend of mine didn’t make it out of his office building of the World Trade Center. That 13 days confirmed what we all knew after just a couple hours. It was the first couple hours after the attack were everything was such a blur, almost like you’re numb or watching your life as if it’s a dream, a nightmare I suppose. It was really difficult to get in touch with people in New York, almost impossible really. Yet, we knew after a couple hours of not hearing from Matt, that he didn’t make it. It was a feeling that deep down many of us felt, including his family. It would be during these hours that I learned in a situation like this you ignore that feeling deep inside your gut and find all the hope in the world to believe that the outcome will be different. It was a really long 13 days to have to wait to hear the confirmation that they found his body. It would be 28 days later when I was notified that I was being laid off of my job. It would be 67 days later that we realized what a fortunate gift it was that Matt’s body was found, not everyone’s bodies were recovered from his office.
The days and months that followed September 11, 2001 would be a chance for me to experience what being united really meant. There was a true feeling of love and connectedness among many. It seemed that everyone loved the USA, people from all over the world showed their support, their concern, and their willingness to help in anyway possible. The support went well beyond the city of New York, the support for American’s was felt from around the globe. The world had one thing to stand united about and that was to end terrorism. But maybe that wasn’t really what was happening, maybe that was just my perspective. What I have sense learned is that there were others who were being isolated and falsely accused of being a terrorist. There were many others who had built a life in American, a successful life, but because they were Muslim, they were being targeted unfairly. It would take me almost 11 years after 9/11 to learn this because it would be that long before a colleague, who happened to be Muslim, would tell me her story and memories of 9/11. I supposed when you’re in the middle of something big you put on your own filter for what you notice and what you pay attention too. I suppose if you’re a 23-year-old Caucasian girl who had a friend not make it out of the south tower, the things remembered immediately following 9/11 feels different, different because all I experienced around me was love, togetherness and compassion. I suppose when you’re more scared than you have ever been, you find comfort with your own friends and family who, again, from the perspective of a 23-year-old girl, life seems full of more love than evil. I suppose we never really see the big picture of what is happening around us, because our brains don’t have the ability to take in that much information, or maybe more accurately we don’t make the room in our brains.
Every year since 2001, on September 11, I take a moment to remember the events of 9/11. When I really got integrated into using Facebook, I started posting a remembrance message each year on 9/11. “May we always remember” is typically what I said. It was generic enough to let others know I remembered and not specific enough to bring back the true sadness that you feel when a friend passes to such a broad group of “friends”. Yet, this year, I posted something different.
My privacy settings on Facebook are very strict, only my “friends” can see my posts and even within my “friends” I have several different categories. I’ll admit that I’m horrible at keeping up the categories current but I tried to make groups like: close friends, colleagues, etc. Even if I mess up these category settings, the overall privacy settings of my account prohibits anyone who isn’t my “friend” from seeing what I post. I do this for many reasons. I also know because of these settings it will be really difficult, if not impossible, for me to make a world impact with anything that I say through my Facebook status.
Because of these settings, I have the belief that everyone connected to me knows that I am not a terrorist … I don’t even know how to make a pot-roast, so making a bomb is something that seems so complicated and impossible for me. I don’t have the mind set at all to kill anyone. I want to have the belief that all people are good and that no-one can do evil. It’s the part of me that is trying to live in ignorance. Ask my close friends, they will tell you, I am one of the most optimistic, positive and happy people they know. I’ve brought home so many stray dogs, because that is what I believe you do, you help the innocent. For a while, it felt as if I was bringing home a stray or lost dog every couple weeks. So, when I post a status update about September 11, to be honest, it’s more for the people I know who lost someone on 9/11, it’s a gentle reminder that their loved ones aren’t forgotten. It’s my way of showing people close to me that their suffering, their loss, their sadness is not forgotten. And from the people I know who lost someone, they too make an update on 9/11 yet several of them post happy pictures of their loved ones, they honor their loved ones and show us that their soul is still with us. It has never really been a status update to try to stop or educate terrorism.
Yet, this year my Facebook status was this:
Love a little more tonight. 14 years tomorrow. 2,977 victims. 19 hijackers. 6,000+ non-fatal injuries. Over $10 billion in property damages. Wall Street closed for 6 straight days. Hundreds of thousands tons of toxin debris spread throughout the air. 18,000+ people estimated to be ill from that debris. $2.8 billion dollars lost in wages. 18,000 small business were destroyed or displaced. 31,900,000 square feet of office space destroyed or lost. 20% cut back in air travel capacity. $5 trillion spent by U.S. home land security. Immediately following 9/11 there was an immediate increase in time spent with families, higher church attendance and an increase in patriotism. All of this and more … But where are we really today? Any better? May we remember 9/11 tomorrow after 14 years but may we not forget 9/11 on 9/12.
I had changed from my typical “always remember” or “never forget” to a more educational status update. I felt this year that the true impact of 9/11 was fading. I felt this year that updating about 9/11 on social media was a trendy thing to do not necessarily a sincere thing. I know these thoughts aren’t fair to the millions of people who sincerely updated their Facebook to reflect memories of 9/11 and it surely isn’t fair to the people I am friends with on Facebook to imply anything of the sort to their status updates. But, that is what went through my mind. For better or worse, that was my thought. As I am sure some people felt that my status was annoying or lacked sincerity. I texted Matt’s sister on 9/11, it’s the one thing I do yearly on 9/11 that really has no other meaning than pure love to a family who was so deeply impacted by 9/11. I took a moment to honor my friend.
September 12 came, as did September 13, 14, 15 and all the days between then and now. And, much as I imagined after Sept 11, there wasn’t much talk of 9/11 anymore. It seems that the events of 9/11 go to the back of our minds so that we all can carry on with our days. I’m sure this isn’t really the case for some but again, this was my perception and it felt as if 9/11 had become one day of unity and connectedness and then got lost throughout the rest of the year. I kept my thoughts about the days passing Sept 11 to myself and I supposed did what others seemed to be doing, carrying on with life.
Then, November 13, 2015 happened. This was the day that Paris was the site of a terrorist attack that killed 129 people and approximately another 350 people were injured. I don’t know all the facts, but I heard that the soccer game that was happening not to far from the attack site, and was supposed to be a target of an attack but the people were denied entrance, and after the attack the teams kept playing. I admit this can be completely wrong information as I haven’t taken the time to verify facts, but I couldn’t believe that there was an attack within blocks of a professional sporting event and the game kept going on as scheduled. This would be the first of several events that followed the attacks in Paris that would annoy me. My Facebook newsfeed lit up with blue, white and red colors and prayers for Paris within what felt like seconds of the news hitting the USA. I hate to admit it, but I was finding myself super annoyed with the blue, white and red France flags as Facebook profile pictures, the status updates that said “pray for Paris” and even with people posting pictures of their vacations in Paris from months or even years ago. I was annoyed to think that a soccer game continued while people just got word that their loved ones were dead. I was annoyed that I didn’t have the energy to check the facts to see if the soccer game REALLY continued after the attack. I tried really hard to not be annoyed, but as more and more of my newsfeed filled with Paris updates, the more annoyed I found myself until I got to the point that I was no longer checking Facebook and no longer listening to the news. I was not trying to be disrespectful or imply I didn’t care about what had just happened in Paris, in fact, it was coming from the opposite – I cared too much. And, I cared so much that I felt completely helpless and completely hopeless. There was and is nothing that I could personally do to really help what was happening in Paris at that moment. And, I was annoyed because after all that happened on 9/11 here in the states, we continue to hear of terrorist attacks all over the world. I was annoyed because I was questioning what REALLY has changed in the last 14 years. From my perspective, it seemed very little has changed, except for maybe the world has more really bad people doing really mean things.
When I finally logged onto Facebook again, here was my status update:
In November, 129 people died and approx 350 were injured in France by a terrorist attack and it turned my news feed blue, white and red and flooded it with prayers for Paris almost immediately. My heart hurts for these people, these families and for the country of France. Yet, what about the countless attacks that happen almost daily that don’t turn our newsfeed the colors of their country flags? There are too many to list but to give an idea just this year, in January 2000+… people dead in Nigeria. March 150 dead in Kenya. September 145 Nigeria. October 102 Turkey. Oct 224 Egypt. Nov 129 France. Maybe our newsfeed should be green, white and green for the 2000+ people from Nigeria. All these people were innocent people in the wrong place when terrorists decided to attack. Some of these numbers represent the terrorists themselves as they all have died too. I am not saying Paris doesn’t matter or doesn’t deserve support. I am saying the problem is much bigger than Paris and truly we all need to support all the countries. All the people. All the children. All the sick people. All the terrorists. Everyone needs to support everyone or this isn’t going to stop. Support could start with education around just how many terrorist attacks are across the world, which happen almost daily. It’s much bigger than Paris. Much bigger.
As expected a small, very small, percentage of my Facebook friends “liked” my status. An even smaller percentage commented in some form of agreement. A couple were annoyed with my status, which I know because they told me so. Some were probably annoyed but didn’t tell me. They were annoyed with my status, like I had been about their Paris-filled status. I found myself in a controversy with friends because our views were different on how we should show respect, unity and hopefulness through a social media site. I was annoyed that terrorists had caused friends and I conflict over something so insignificant as to what we write on a personal social media site.
Terrorism is a word that I wish we didn’t have to think so much about. Terrorist are people who I wish didn’t do what they do. Terrorist are people who honestly think about things so differently than I do, that I don’t in the least bit understand their thought process. How in the world can someone truly believe the best thing to do is to blow up themselves along with hundreds of other people? I suppose if I think about it, it’s the same way that people believe in anything. We condition ourselves to belief so strongly in something that the belief literally becomes our only way of thinking.
I don’t know how to end terrorism. I do believe that if we truly believe that all lives are equally valuable, if we truly believe that no life matters more than any others, we must mourn all deaths equally. We must recognize that 9/11 and Paris are just two events in a long list of terrorist attacks. We have to recognize that we have seen this play out before, government will call for military interventions in the Middle East, more bombs and more guns. Airstrikes will be demanded with the thought of “no more tolerance for civilian casualties.” The solution to end terror will be to ramp up campaigns of the state of terror to increase fear. If these are the strategies that we continue to use, then it seems as if attacks like those in Paris and those on 9/11 and those happening all over the world, will only be more frequent. The list of attacks will only get longer.
Maybe the solution is to think more critically about what our governments are doing both abroad and at home. Maybe it’s time to think that if we don’t change the cycle, the cycle of terrorism will continue.
I don’t know who I’m writing this for, maybe I’m writing it for those who are feeling like me … helpless, confused and frustrated. People like me who know the answer to terrorism is way more than changing the color of flag on our Facebook profile or praying for those impacted. Maybe the solution is out there but we all just need to think differently to find it. If we continue down the path we are on, I am so terrified for what our children and their children will see, will be a part of, will learn about terrorism. I am scared at the thought that terrorist attacks will become as frequent as car accidents.
I’m writing this maybe just to allow myself the space to learn I’m not alone. That I’m not crazy. To learn that others agree there is a better way. That we need to find a better way. I don’t know who I am writing this for, but I wrote it.
Lastly, to each of my friends who changed their Facebook profile picture to the flag of France and updated their status to acknowledge they are praying for France … please know that I too hope we all find peace, unity and connectedness in a way that doesn’t involve terrorist attacks. Please know that my lack of changing my profile picture isn’t coming from a lack of caring or concern, it’s coming from a place that there is no way to represent all the country flags. It comes from a place that because so many are deeply impacted by terrorism that it doesn’t feel right to me to just represent France. I wish I knew how to overlay multiple country flags into my profile picture, to include ours, the United States. For terrorism has impacted us too … and may we remember 9/11 and the impact on days other than just Sept 11. May the love and prayers being shared with France be shared all around the world and even with all of us home, here in the USA. And, please know that I am not annoyed with you for updating your picture, I am annoyed with the situation the world has found ourselves in.
With love, gratitude and a hope of peace across the world,