What Terrorism Taught Me: Experiencing 9/11 and the Attacks in Paris
In November of 2015 when Paris was terrorized, I was sitting in a hostel with my friends in Amsterdam getting ready to spend a night wandering its spellbinding, canal-lined streets. I was a 21-year-old, female, American student studying abroad in Europe (Not a bad spot to be in, I'm aware). But my brain hurt. My heart hurt. During that month, my eyes feverishly raced across screens and pages non-stop in an attempt to try and understand what was going on in the world.
As news and updates continued to spill out of the social media sites we so often frequent, my heart felt heavier, almost as if it was dropping into my stomach. I had just passed through a giant airport in Paris hours before the attacks. My friends had plans of visiting the very next weekend. I woke up Saturday morning with a flood of texts, missed calls and even e-mails insisting on the confirmation of my safety and whereabouts. Even in the Netherlands, I was hardly 300 miles away from the Parisian chaos.
I sort of thought the news would fade with time, as have most tragedies that I'm not directly connected with (unfortunately) do. That same thought process that's kind of like, "That is SO terribly sad....I couldn't even imagine..." So you don't imagine. You don't even try, because you truly can't relate to the terror that those people experienced or that their families are experiencing as they try to pick up the pieces in the wake of the theft of their lost love. But then I realized, I can imagine.
Most people can provide a vivid account of where they were on the morning of September 11th, 2001. I know I can, as I know my dad can, too. He found out early that morning that a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, just floors below his little brother's investment banking office. He had to put on a brave face for his family and his 4 kids. Understandably, that was next to impossible. I have, in my memory, inordinately vivid recollections of that day. The empty desks at school, the solemn pledge of allegiance, the preoccupied teachers, the over-simplified explanations from adults telling us what was happening, the hushed phone calls in my dad's office, and my dad tucking me into bed that night. Trying to tuck me into bed that night. And me, afterwards, contemplating the confusion that comes with seeing your dad cry to you for the first time, staring through the blinds of my window and praying to God's stars to help my family find my uncle Stephen.
Seventeen years later, I've lived through 16 more September 11th's. With each year, I have shed gullibility and gained awareness. Despite popular belief, it has only been increasingly harder every year to accept. I've bit my tongue as people casually bring it up in everyday conversation, in which cases I often don't know what to say without sounding somber. Every anniversary, I am forced to imagine the pain that comes with losing a sibling (for my grandma, a son, and for my cousin, a father...and for so many others affected by the loss of my uncle Stephen's life, a light). His death initiated this perpetual echo of pain, but it also released a boundless spiritual light in his remembrance.
So now, as acts of terror (the ones that make it into mainstream media) seem as common an occurrence as acts of grace and harmony, I am faced with a somewhat parallel experience. It's like a tall, glass window that I had always seen out of, looking to the world on the other side. I was safe on one side of the glass, almost naive. Both 9/11 and the attacks on Paris have punctured holes into my window, leaving behind infinite trails of distinct cracks that I somehow never saw before; that, somehow, both hinders and uncovers a sense clarity that I've never known.
I've ordered books online so I can better understand these political complexities. I've consoled my family and reassured my friends. I've also taken time for myself, to be alone. To reflect, and to let myself feel this. It's fear, and it's bravery. It's mourning for my own losses and for those of others. It's the patience in absorbing an array of political stances, and it's the wisdom to know where I myself stand in all of it.
I can imagine the pain of families accepting their losses, of their worst nightmares coming to life. I can empathize with the sheer fury lighting the souls of these families on fire. I can most definitely relate to those who are fearful of what might happen in the future.
I couldn't help but think this is all history writing itself—to think that students in the future could be reading about these events that led up to World War III is a sobering thought in itself
Plus, to think that…these tragedies happen every single day...
Events like this make a lot of people speak loudly: politicians, opinionated-facebook-debate-initiators, viral news anchor deliberations, etc. This is all a healthy, expected exercise of our American right to speak freely, to vote, and to democratically contribute to the direction of our country's advancement. Others, like me, elect to cope with fewer words. Honestly, I don't know what to say. I don't know what to do. I don't know who to believe, where to stand, when to react, how to possibly live my life in the same way that I always have when there are massively disheartening threats taking place all over the world.
How can I find the middle road, between being so personally affected by terrorism that I would do anything in my power to fight and prevent it, and still have a heart for refugees from the very countries from which the danger is sourced? Between wanting to see the direct service of justice through combat and believing in the strategic wisdom of patience at the same time?
It's okay to be unsure. I think there's actually a lot of people out there who can probably relate, but are afraid of being conversationally obliterated by those who like to think they know "everything" about the topic at hand. While I admit that knowledge is a powerful tool, I believe that faith is the greater strength. Some may call is passive or naive, but it is through faith in God that I'm able to claim complete fearlessness. In this dark, undoubtedly evil world, I don't have to fear death, and I don't have to carry the weight of anxiety. Even in the stages where I don't possess all of the knowledge I would like to, I can always stand upon a foundation of faith, using it as fuel to pursue that knowledge.
In this post, I have claimed to be close to terrorism. To be clear, I have been deeply affected by the echoes of terrorism; I have not been a victim at its source. I understand that I am fortunate to live in a safe location with plenty of opportunities for growth, contribution to society, and personal success. The window out of which I see has been nearly destroyed; yet, through its brokenness and my blindness, I can finally see a need for me to stand for something more than the fulfillment of my privileges.
Each day brings me a renewed appreciation for life. Seeing the world, in both its incredible beauty and terrorizing evils, has completely changed my appreciation for each breath I take. Or rather, each one I'm given.
It only took me nine months of working in the data analytics industry post-graduation to realize that I was destined for something greater.