September 11: The Day That Shook Us All
It has been ten years, and I remember it all like it was yesterday. My children ask me about September 11th every year, and this year is no different.
My son asked me casually the other day what it was like when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, and I tell him the same thing I’ve told him every year. I was driving him to his 2-year-old check-up. I was on the highway and we were listening to some children’s CD, when I got to the fork in the highway to go north or south and I remember looking around and thinking, “Where are all the people?” There wasn’t anyone else on the road. No One. I was scared that something happened and I needed to get my son to a safe place. So, I turned on the radio and started listening for something, some sort of information to make sure that my husband, my son and my family were safe. What I heard was not anything I could have fathomed. I heard, what you all heard, the play by-play of the crashing planes.
The rest is what I don’t tell them, because I am trying to protect their innocent little hearts from the prejudice and the hatred in the world. I don’t tell them the rest of the story.
In shock, I continued on to my son’s appointment. I don’t remember if I called my husband. I remember getting to the office and walking in with him, and greeting the pediatrician, who is an Egyptian/Palestinian Muslim. He asked me if I knew what was happening, and I said that I heard on the radio. I said that I heard they were suspecting that it was a Palestinian attack. He said he hadn’t heard anything like that. We continued on with our appointment, but something in that exchange between us, at that moment, flipped a switch for me. I was no longer part of the Us and Them dynamic – me being the Christian American Majority and them being the Muslim Foreigner Minority. I was now part of the Minority group, because my husband and my son were the Minority group.
I drove home that day, and kept the news on for the rest of the afternoon. I went about my business of the day in a haze of latent panic. I couldn’t wait for Khaled to get home safe. I was sad for the people who died, I was in shock that something like this could happen, and I was terrified that someone would target their anger at Khaled.
I remember emailing my Auntie, who has been a military wife her whole life, and asking her how do I deal with this panic that someone is going to come after us. This was before I knew any other Muslim families and believed that we were the lone Muslim family in the area, and if someone had to vent their anger it would be directed at us. I felt completely alone, and terrified that I would look out the window and see a cross burned in our yard. I was afraid that our home would be vandalized, or that someone would approach Khaled at work and attack him. I was afraid that someone could tell that my little boy was Muslim and say something hurtful to him.
Ever since that day, I live on that fine line of fear. Scared to let people know we are Muslim, but raising my children to be proud of their religion.
Whenever someone or some group creates or performs an act of terrorism, I pray that they are not Muslim. Every day that is an anniversary of some terrorist attack, I am afraid of my children being at school. The Mosques in our city have been targeted and vandalized. I am terrified that someone will attack the Islamic School while the kids are there. I am afraid that some kid in my son’s school will repeat something derogatory about Muslims, and he will overhear them. Worse yet, I’m afraid someone will verbally attack my child and leave him ashamed of his beliefs.
This morning I received a text from my brother, recommending that I listen to a tribute to 9/11 being played at the top of the hour on WSPD 1370AM. He said that he has been listening to it all morning, and it will move me. So, at 10:00 this morning, I turned on the show and listened. The radio host was playing a mix of the broadcast announcements from the morning of September the 11, 2001. In the mix is a woman’s last message to her husband, other radio and television announcers talking about what was happening, and another woman’s panic that she had to find her loved one who works in the Trade Center. The announcer chokes up and has to go to commercial. It is a gut wrenching mix, meant to stir up emotions, to create a response.
I’m not sure how this broadcast will set with anyone else, but it has made me terrified of leaving my home this weekend. Emotions are going to be running high, people are going to be remembering all weekend, and when the pain gets brought back to the surface, anger flares and violence occurs. I am afraid of my children being at school. I am afraid of my husband being at work. I am afraid of going to the grocery store. I want to cocoon my family in the safety of our home and drape an invisibility cloak over the whole thing and hide away and keep us safe from the anger and pain. But I cannot show this fear to my children, because if I show fear, then they will need to know why we are afraid. That is a Pandora’s Box I’m not prepared to open.
Kristina ElSayed is an American, Thirty-something
mother, married to an Egyptian, Forty-ish man for more than a decade. “I have muddled my way through the Islamic community in my Midwestern town now for as long as I’ve been married, and I am hoping to help other women, like me, navigate through a little easier. I write about living an Islamic Life and Parenting Muslim Children, your own way.” Follow her blog and read more about her on Muslimahs Working at Home.