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I feel like I’ve written or told this story a hundred times before. I’m not even sure if it made out into some tangible form, or if I replayed the events in my head from time to time over the last decade. Every passing September makes my heart ache. I was thankfully not directly affected by the tragedy that day, but it affected me nonetheless.
I remember that September 11, 2001 had started off as a bright day. Bright enough to coax me out of bed, and out of the house, on my way to high school. It was only the second week; classes had not yet lost their novelty. The first two classes passed unremarkably. Even if you asked me, I wouldn’t be able to remember what those classes were. My third class, though, I will never forget.
It was science research, a class devoted to introducing students to lab techniques and research skills. It was a little past 9:40 AM, and several of us were gathered around the desk to the far corner of the room, talking about whatever high school sophomores talk about. One of the girls came running in a little after class started, and exclaimed that planes had hit the World Trade Center. She was someone who had a tendency to be a little silly, if not outlandish, and so I didn’t believe her at first. Who would want to? It was when the wood shop teacher walked in from next door, solemn and silent, that we realized that something indeed was wrong.
We were shepherded into his classroom, where a TV had been wheeled in, blaring the news. There we stood or sat, transfixed, watching smoke billow out from the angry, blazing gashes that had torn through each World Trade Center tower. I remember some students crying, some were talking out loud. Others were anxiously calling their parents who worked at or near the World Trade Center. I don’t remember what I felt exactly, probably because at that moment, I felt empty. I had no idea how to react, because what had happened was so beyond the scope of what was possible, that my mind and body were blindsided. I watched, as though in a trance, as the smoke continued to pour out, and the voices of the news anchors danced nervously around, unsure quite how to react themselves. Gone was the notion that the United States was, somehow, impervious to outside forces. Wars were supposed to be few and far between, fought oceans away, not in my own backyard. Any impression of peace and stability was quickly and mercilessly eviscerated.
I remember that a good friend of mine was sitting next to me, palpably frightened, though perhaps only comforted by the fact that she had discovered that her mother was not in harm’s way. We were sitting together when, at 9:59 AM, the South Tower began to collapse. Forever etched into my memory is the sound of the small scream that escaped my friend’s lips at the moment the roar of the flames and the crunching sound of failing structural beams became one, as everything screamed towards street level. For me, that was the sound that marked the boundary between what once was, and what is now. Innocence, and innocence lost. The start of a terrible new chapter, but everyone was too frightened to willingly turn the page.
I remember that when I left the school that day and looked west, the sky was now covered with a faint, gray haze. “Smoke from the Twin Towers, most likely,” said a friend of mine.
Later that night, I remember sitting on my bed, thinking about the the day’s events, and of what happens now. I was thinking about the thousands upon thousands of bodies scattered throughout the site: some dead, some barely clinging on, and the rest working to save them. Death was not something I was familiar with, let alone on such a scale and in such close proximity. That was the first time that I openly wept that day.
I was scared, not only for future attacks from beyond our borders, but attacks from within. Hate crimes had started almost as soon as word had gotten out that the terrorists were mostly Arab Muslims. Anyone who looked potentially Arab and/or Muslim was a target, including my family, my friends, and me. I heard stories about not only Muslims, but Sikhs and Hindus being taunted, beaten up, and in some cases, gunned down. All paid the pound of flesh that they did not owe. While the incidence of those crimes died down almost as quickly as they had appeared, the simmering anger against Muslims was still present.
Ten years later…
Ten years later, Osama is dead, along with thousands of people with terrorist leanings. So is Saddam, and hundreds of thousands of Afghani and Iraqi civilians. So are thousands of US soldiers.
Ten years later, Muslims (and to some extent many South Asians) are still vilified. Every opportunity to throw stones seems to be taken by people who don’t understand that the sins of the few should not fall on the shoulders of the whole group, and that just because the color of our skin is the same as another group, doesn’t mean we are the same. If you don’t believe me, look at any news story that involves a Muslim, and read the comments from the readers. It is shameful.
Ten years later, The first responders, who put aside family and other responsibilities to toil at the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center, have had to pay a huge price for their sacrifice. Many have developed significant respiratory issues, others have developed cancers that normally occur far more rarely. For this, they have received little, aside from empty words of support and promises, as they face further death and disability. Slowly, steps are being taken in the right direction to provide compensation, but they deserve far more than that.
Ten years later, we receive word of another “credible” threat though “unconfirmed.” I truly hope that nothing happens. Yet, this is just another stop on the paranoia roller coaster many of us in the United States have been riding since 9/11. At this point, I feel like the way in which news outlets cover stories about terror threats, acts of violence, and other similar events has moved so far beyond “the boy who cried wolf” that every threat, credible or otherwise, has become background noise to me. It shouldn’t, but it has. This is what fear-mongering does. It saturates and obliterates any ability to discern what is worth worrying about, and what can be put aside.
Ten years later, I worry that I have descended into a kind of cynicism. I want to believe that, as a country, we have grown closer post-9/11, and that we can look past everything and come together for the sake of peace and stability. Then I see the politicians railing against equality, diversity, and drive while championing xenophobia, a widening income gap, and ignorance. They fancy themselves patriots. The patriots who fought for our country over 200 years ago (yes OUR country) were fighting for freedom and equality for all. How quickly the definition of patriotism has changed! This only fuels my cynicism. If you want to meet a patriot, talk to some of the first responders who didn’t ask those they saved if they were immigrants, followed a different faith from theirs, or worked in a different income bracket before deciding whether or not to save them.
Ten years later, and I’m still admittedly worried.
Ten years later, and I still mourn the loss of life.
Ten years later, what was Ground Zero–a smoldering pile of ashes, rubble, pain, and death–has slowly blossomed into something beautiful and full of hope. Even though I am in Manhattan very often, the last time I had visited Ground Zero was in 2008. It takes my breath away now, to see what has literally risen from the ashes. From 9/11 to now, we have been beating the terrorists everyday by living, building, and thriving. Yet we cannot truly win until we hearken to a more basic, but universal set of principles. That is to say, all are equal, and all should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Freedom, knowledge, and well-being are not objects that can or should be rationed, but rather, are undeniable facets of human nature that should be tapped, and never stifled for any reason.
I would have written more, but I have a presentation tomorrow. Translating politics and journal articles about calcitonin at the same time is much easier said than done.
Bobby Jindal sounded fake, and he sounded sing-songy, each word infused with a sickening saccharine quality. He kind of sounded like Bobby Brady with his child-like cadence, and equally childish solutions. Rehashing the same failed policies as somehow new and full of potential doesn’t work Bobby.The man cited Katrina as some sort of shining example towards which our country should work. He was calling out the current administration for increasing spending, though the Bush administration was the one churning out all those pieces of legislation vastly increasing spending.
The man clearly is intelligent, having gotten a Rhodes Scholarship, and accepted to both Harvard Medical School and Yale Law School. So how could he be so incredibly naive? I don’t see him as being a likely flag-bearer of the Republican Party in 2012 (more likely pallbearer but perhaps I speak too soon).
What about Obama’s speech? Is there really anything I need to say? He was concise, clear, and *gasp* eloquent. Oh how I’ve missed that after eight years of gibberish and nonsense, the resulting applause not so much because of the policies Dubya proposed but probably more because he was able to string together a few coherent sentences that resembled English. Obama’s propositions seem reasonable, not all rainbows and sunshine. He understands the challenges ahead, and has presented reasonable policies to remedy our ills. I think we’ll pull through all right.
To quote the student he recognized for her heartfelt letter to Congress asking for help for her school, “we are not quitters.”
I spent most of my formative years in the nurturing cocoon of the Clinton administration. I was vaguely aware of Bush 41, but the first president I chose (in my head) was Clinton, so he was really my president. I didn’t really know what war was. I had heard of the first Gulf War, but it seemed less a war, more a way to keep a madman at bay. I knew something of Bosnia and Serbia, but these were minor engagements (especially compared to what we’re involved in now). All I was aware of was economic excess and of prosperity. I assumed that everything always came easily, not necessarily without work, but without worry. I realize now that I was wrong to assume. This is not to say Bush 43 is entirely at fault, or that Clinton is blameless. There were mistakes being made everywhere, on Capitol Hill, on Wall Street, in banks, and in our own living rooms. Now the fruits have been borne from our mindless sins of ignorance.
I was talking to a sixth grader I tutor yesterday and we ended up discussing various things. At one point, she asked me about medicine and how long it takes to become a doctor. I laughed and went through the whole spiel. I told her that if she doesn’t take any breaks in between, she’ll probably be in her late twenties by the time she starts working. It was the truth; the road to becoming a doctor is a long, winding, pothole-ridden road. She sighed before declaring the world was probably going to end before then. I was taken a little aback by her pointedly frank pessimism, especially given her age. Pessimism wasn’t supposed to kick in until at least the angst-ridden teen years. Yet as I thought about it more, I realized she was right to assume, and right to worry. We have become conditioned to fear.
I’m not saying the world is going to end. Obviously that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that the smooth sailing we have had for the last decade or so has come to an end in the most unceremonious and clumsy fashion possible. Gone are the times when wide-eyed, college graduates can expect a job waiting for them within months after their graduation, followed by buying their first home, setting up their children’s trust fund, and letting their 401(k)s bloat with money. Employers no longer are waiting at the end of the college road with open arms and a fat paycheck. Instead we are seeing college grads moving back with their parents, as they wait and wait for employers to come calling. Over 2.6 million jobs were lost in 2008, and the number continues to grow. As the economy shrinks, states are now cutting spending in places that could have drastic consequences (like Paterson cutting hospital spending in New York State in a time where healthcare is suffering). Again I used to assume that doctors were at least a little immune to economic crises; after all, there’s always a need for doctors right? Yet when hospitals can’t afford to take on new doctors, and when people can’t afford to get healthcare, even doctors are finding it difficult to find work. There is no real certainty in the current economic climate, and the possible ramifications are frightening.
As I was buying my ticket to Penn Station from my home station, I saw a man who asked me for a buck or two towards a train ticket. This wasn’t your typical bum though, and this wasn’t the city. This was Long Island. He looked like any other Joe Schmo who lived on Long Island. Maybe I’m naive to have even entertained the idea that Long Island was somehow, immune, from the economic downturn. I can’t help but think that the number of people booted onto the streets will increase as the economy continues to sink.
Many of you must be reading this and thinking, “She is such a pessimist” and “This is so depressing.” It’s the truth. No one wants to envision a world where we have to be fearful for our livelihood as well as for our lives. Certainly we don’t want that for ourselves, and we definitely don’t want that for our children. We want our children to know that they can do anything they want, with little worry, assuming they put in the effort. Yet it’s something to keep in the back of your mind. To continue assuming that everything is perfectly peachy is a sign of sure insanity.
Yet to those that say, “Why bother doing anything if we’re just destined for a rough road to employment in the end?” the point is not to give up, the point is to work harder. Employers (presumably) will favor the more qualified candidates over the guy or girl who just scraped through with a bachelors degree. Go for the unpaid internships to get your foot in the door. Network as much as you can, a resume and transcript can only tell so much about a person. Do whatever you can, short of stepping on another guy’s toes.
We’ll have to make some changes to the way we conduct our lives now. We can’t continue the same wasteful practices that landed us here in the first place. We can’t allow the market to operate of its own volition. We need strict regulations to rein everything back to some sort of stable state. It’s important to note that all situations are temporary, good times, and bad. I’m just hoping that, for the time being, the stimulus plan passed by Congress will have its intended effect sooner rather than later.
Until then, we have to work hard and stay positive. This, too, shall pass.
Somehow, killing just doesn’t seem to equate into any sort of act of retribution. I don’t see how taking a life, or taking several lives, justifies any valid philosophy. Since when does storming a crowded place, taking out your rifle, machine gun, or pistol and firing bullet after bullet into people achieve any sort of good? What good does it do to target people and take hostages, and watch as they bleed and sweat fear for their lives and shame for being somehow, culpable for some vague and uncertain deed in the eyes of their captors.
Who are we to judge who is worthy of life and worthy of death?
This is the credo of terrorist organizations today, or so it seems, that in taking life and striking fear, something good is achieved. Most recently, several gunmen opened fire in coordinated attacks across several of Mumbai, India’s hotels, restaurants, and hospitals. It was clear that these gunmen were targeting foreign nationals. In most of the terrorist attacks in recent years, the sites tended to be those frequented by foreigners. Why?
I am not even going to try to interpret their actions, it’s not my place. I am not going to talk about God, and I’m not going to talk about religion. They have been unfairly dragged through the mud and I am not going to continue with it.
So where does one start to dissect a mind, a mind of a person so caught up in their own mission that the mind is indistinguishable from the mission? Have you ever tried to convince someone they are wrong about something they strongly believe in? It’s about as effective as talking to a wall, except the wall is sticking their fingers in their ears and trying to talk over you.
No one ever goes out wanting to do something “evil.” Everyone is convinced that they are the good guys. Can doing good be so relative? How can one begin to standardized “good deeds” and “evil deeds?” Won’t terrorists see that they have inflicted unbelievable pain on their fellow man, won’t that (in theory) make them realize that their view of supposed “goodness” is fundamentally flawed, when death and suffering are imperative to achieve any “good?”
Then again, maybe they won’t. Goodness and evil at this point in time are still (unbelievably) relative. One can only hope that this changes.
I pray for the people who were lost today in Mumbai, as well as for the people who have been lost and will continue to be lost if good and evil remain concepts that are open to interpretation. May their souls rest in peace.
EDIT: For up to date pictures/information about what’s going on in/around the Taj Hotel, please refer to my friend Arun’s blog: http://arunshanbhag.com/2008/11/26/mumbai-blasts-taj-is-burning/
Finally we have overcome so many hurdles, so many years of pain, so many years of suffering, of ignorance. Finally we have opened our eyes and see not in color, but in competence. We see abilities, we see potential, and we can finally see past race. We have finally chosen someone who deals not in fear, but in hope. We have finally chosen change.
Thank you for helping Barack Obama to win this election. Thank you for restoring not only my faith, but the faith of most of the country, if not the world in the America’s humanity. After eight years of George W. Bush, thank you for turning the tables and calling for us to seize our place on the world stage again not as a war monger, but as a bringer of stability, and of peace.
My dad was watching the results pour in and commented “I didn’t think I’d actually live to see this.” I don’t think I thought I would see it either, and if I did, I thought I would have been much older. This is a testament to the power of the youth, in part, but also a testament to the changing views of the country. We are fast becoming a country that cares less about the superficial, and that’s a very encouraging sign. No amount of smear tactics, no amount of false rumors could derail us from our goal: change for the better.
This is not to deny that John McCain was a good candidate, but unfortunately he just wasn’t right for this time and wasn’t right for our country’s needs as they stand now.
Change is here, change is finally here.