Friday, September 09, 2011
Last night, the college I work for held a candlelight vigil of remembrance for those lost on 9/11. As Chair of the Staff Council, I was ask to be one of the speakers. When they asked me, they did not know my personal experience with the tragedy.
I get so angry when people show hatred. If you hate Muslims (or anyone who is 'different' from you for that matter) because of what happened, then you are no better than those fools who perpetrated this action. They hate, you hate - where does that get us? Death and destruction on all sides, and those of us on all sides who are living our peaceful lives are forgotten and are seen as collateral damage. Those who use fear to further their religious or political agenda and disgusting creatures who should be avoided at all costs.
Anyway, here is my speach from last night.
On September 11, 2001, I should have been at work, but on September 10th, I walked in to my office at Cantor-Fitzgerald, on the 101st floor of Tower One in the World Trade Center carrying my new born baby girl, Jasmeen, as a “prop”. My intention was to use her to beg another week of maternity leave from my boss and CFO Jeffrey Goldflam. Jeff held my baby, made cute little baby noises at her and held my 2-1/2 year old son in him lap.
Mission accomplished, I took the opportunity to walk around all five floors of our offices and show off my baby girl with a mother’s pride. It was nice speaking to everyone and being able to see them in a non-professional way.
8:30 the next morning, I received an e-mail from one of my best friends, Michele Nelson, Cantor’s Benefits Specialist, saying that it was wonderful to see me and the baby and was looking forward to me coming back to work the next week. I read the e-mail, smiled, wrote back and headed to my girlfriend’s house for morning coffee.
About an hour later, I received a frantic call from my mother on my cell phone. She was sobbing and crying – I could barely understand her. Finally recognizing my confusion, she asked “You’re not at work are you?” I said no, and proudly told her how I had used my own child to wrangle out the extra week of maternity. I expected her to laugh, but all I heard was silence. Finally, as if gasping for air, she told me to turn on the TV.
My girlfriend and I stared at the screen. We could not believe what we were seeing. I tried calling my staff, I had three people reporting to me in New York and I couldn’t reach anyone. I went in to a complete panic and rushed home, in case anyone was trying to call my home number. At that time, I never imagined that the buildings were going to collapse and the majority of my closest and dearest friends were going to be lost. You see, I knew the story about the plane hitting the Empire State Building and at that time, I thought it was that. As I walked past the Laundromat on the corner of my street, I saw the crowd gathered around the television set mounted on the wall. I recognized our regular Fed Ex delivery guy from Cantor. He had taken the day off. I saw this man almost every day and while I recognized his face, we had never spoken – I never even knew his name and it turned out he only lived a block or so away from me.
When the buildings collapsed, I was stunned. I cried a little at first, and then I became obsessed with watching the news shows. I was scanning all the footage to see if I could recognize any of the jumpers – I mean, how morbid is that? What’s worse is – I did. After days of that, my husband went out and bought about 20 DVDs and disconnected the cable. That helped a lot.
Did I mention that my girlfriend was from Bangladesh? No, well, it really shouldn’t matter should it? But after 9/11, while many grew closer, others chose to vent their fear and anger out on those who had absolutely nothing to do with the attacks. My girlfriend became afraid to leave her house, even to walk her son to school because roving gangs of thugs were attacking women who wore the veil. My husband was Muslim. He lost a cousin in Tower 2. We went on the subway to show our respect to the family. I wore the veil, even though I was not Muslim, but just to show respect. A woman, emblazoned with American Flag pins, came up to me and punched me in the face.
But I won’t hate.
In tribute to her daughter, my friend Michele’s mother wrote that Michele was “blind to color, creed, ethnicity and class.” For me to hate would be disrespectful and not show honor to my friend’s memory. You see, fear and hate do not make you safe. You have to make peace with your own inner terrors. Once you do that, fearlessness and compassion will resonate from within you. I am not saying we should not be vigilant, what I am saying to you is that you cannot dwell in the realm of insecurity.
The students gathered here were children when these events occurred. No matter what country you are from, you have been raised in the post 9/11 world regardless of how much terror and suffering many have already seen in your home countries. That can be used to make you isolate yourselves – or we can take the opportunity we have here at Manhattanville and everywhere else others are gathered in remembrance and embrace our cultural differences and enrich this world with love, hope, and peace. Nothing will change, unless we change it ourselves. We can’t sit and wait for others to do for us. We owe it to Michele, to Jeff and to all the others who were lost, our friends, our families and to those who have not yet been born.
Deliberate, fearless compassion. This is how I live my life and if you are committed to that as well, raise your candle high in remembrance.