For many, September 11, 2001 was the end of the world as they knew it. Suddenly, the entire country faced the reality babyboomers knew since grade school. Some parts of the world hate the United States. Admittedly, it was unsettling to discover the enemy was not a well-defined nation. Instead, the United States might be at war with an ideology spread around the world.
Boomers grew up worrying about someone pushing a red button and wiping countries off the face of the earth. They weathered the storm of the Cuban Missle Crisis, as well as Vietnam and the civil unrest it engendered. The world, as boomers knew it, was always in flux and changed with shifts in the political wind. A war with an ideology was different, but it was still war.
Yes, the sheer magnitude of the attack taking place that day was staggering. So staggering in fact, the way we did business, traveled and defined our enemies changed, but the world was still the same screwed up place it has been since the Iron Age. As for the United States, someone has hated us, tried to attack us, threatened us, and done their level best to make us disappear since the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Please know, the preceding remarks are not to downplay the importance of 9/11. They are not to minimize the prices paid by those who are no longer with us because they decided to go to work that day. Nor, were they written to disparage or cast a shadow over the efforts made to remember the price the nation paid that day, and every day since, for being the United States of America.
The memorials, memorial services, remembrances, and ongoing struggle to control, if not eradicate, terrorist organizations in the world are essential. So were the efforts to save as many as possible that day. The price paid by first responders for rushing into a toxic environment deserves to be recognized, and the heroics of the passengers on Flight 93 lauded. Still, in our desire to memorialize a tragedy of this nature, some stories go unknown or unacknowledged.
Judy* was a widow whose husband died unexpectedly and relatively young. He was in the prime of life, with school-age children, and a beautiful wife. However, he left home one morning and never returned. I do not remember what took his life, but I believe it was natural causes and totally unexpected. Judy ended up seeking help with her grief and her future from the para-ministry with which I was involved.
As with many who seek help, this writer included, Judy remained with the ministry to help others. We became friends and colleagues, which is why I know how the events at the World Trade Center changed her life. You see, Judy was in New York that day, a few blocks from ground zero.
Can you imagine what it was like? Not that many years before the world as she knew it changed dramatically. Now she was only a few blocks from something devastating, trapped, with no way to call her family or find out what was happening elsewhere. It took hours for her to make contact with anyone from home, and it was days before she could make it back to her family. When she returned to Texas, her world had changed, again.
Harry* was a young man who came to work with me after leaving the military. He liked being in uniform and thought law enforcement would be a good job. He hoped it would allow him to help others, build a career, even a legacy.
The military was the ticket out of Harry’s small-town life. He came from a rural area of Texas where he felt mistreated. In the Army, he was no longer the poor black kid from the wrong side of the tracks, at least for a time. Unfortunately, he discovered discrimination and stereotyping were not limited to the boonies. He left the military a bit older, a bit more resilient, but still hurting.
Law enforcement was good for him to a point. Our department valued diversity and pushed public service more than traditional police agencies. Unfortunately, the department operated in an area with its share of rednecks and bigots. His response to some of those individuals and his inability to handle his emotions almost cost him his badge.
Then he found a new way of thinking. He found a religion that helped him with his self-worth and helped him realize it was not about the small-minded people who only saw the color of his skin. He changed right before our eyes, becoming a more mature, more stable friend, colleague, husband, and father.
If Harry had worked in New York City and been near the towers on that fateful September morning, he might have been one of those rushing into harm’s way. He was that kind of person and cop. Instead, he served along with all the other officers in the United States waiting for the next shoe to drop, wondering what might happen and where it would happen. He had a community to help protect, and he wanted to do a good job.
Harry soldiered on, doing his job, taking care of his family, and growing in his faith. Unfortunately, his faith was Islam. His efforts to overcome frustrations from his youth were negated by the response of many people to his faith. The 9/11 terrorists were Muslim, all Muslims must be dangerous.
Harry’s family was harassed and threatened. His personal property was vandalized, and he was mistreated when he was not in uniform or performing official duties. As a grown man, an experienced police officer, he suddenly found himself once again on the wrong side, figuratively speaking, of the tracks and with the “wrong” religion in the view of many.
Judy’s experiences surrounding 9/11 led her to question her life and her future. She wondered if there was anything out there for her. She was alone and had just experienced one of those, “What if I’d been in that building” moments. She had to be strong for her children, but there was no one close to be strong for her. No one to hold her in the night when she remembered the fear she felt that day. There was no one to comfort her when she cried.
Then, she ended up in my office. Among others, I helped her recover from the loss of her husband. She trusted me and shared her fears and longings readily. Her proximity to the attack on New York made her realize her vulnerability and her desire to have a partner in life. She just had no clue how to fill the void she now recognized so clearly. Thankfully, what she needed was already a part of her life, which made my job simple. All I had to do was point out the obvious.
She and her best male friend and confidant were married a few months later. He had loved her for a long time but knew she needed time and space. He was patient, standing by as she struggled with grief and was still there after 9/11. They are together to this day, happy and healthy.
I wish I could say the same about Harry. The alienation he felt as a young black Baptist in rural Texas was nothing compared to the isolation he felt as middle-aged black Muslim in Dallas after 9/11. He withdrew from his long-time friends and colleagues, depending more and more on new friends who shared his religion.
On the surface, he made the right choice. Most faiths believe being surrounded and supported by fellow believers is essential, and if that is true, Harry was in a good position. He was a leader in his neighborhood and congregation.
Unfortunately, Islam is no different than Catholicism, Christianity, or other religions in one critical way. Sinners hide behind the trappings of faith in all of them. Harry became involved with a fellow believer who was not part of the same congregation. However, Harry trusted him because of their shared beliefs. That was a mistake.
The fellow in question was accused of some serious crimes. His attempts to mitigate his punishment included offering the prosecutors information on a “dirty cop.” There was, as far as I know, little if any evidence to support his charges against Harry. In the end, the lack of evidence did not matter.
Harry’s involvement with the person was enough to call his judgment into question. There were plenty of signs this guy was not to be trusted, but Harry believed in him because of their shared faith. The prosecutors agreed to close the investigation on Harry if he would resign from law enforcement. His career was over, as the reason for his resignation was part of his official record.
These are simply two small stories remembered eighteen years after 9/11. One is uplifting the other is not. Either way, they represent the thousands of other stories which likely played out and will play out over the years. The world changed that day, and people of whom we’ve never heard are living with the consequences of that change. Now and in the future, take a moment and pray for the Judys and Harrys whose lives were changed by 9/11. Pray they all find, or found, a way to have full and love-filled lives as Judy did.**
**To be fair and transparent, I have reason to believe Harry went on to recover from the situation which caused him to give up his law enforcement career. I would hope his friends and family supported him as he built a new career for himself.