Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 12th

It was just as well that my morning class had been canceled; no one seemed to be paying much attention in their classes that day. In fact many students and a few professors had taken the day off, some, to participate in the campus blood drive; others, I imagine, were in shock.

I myself had felt it best to go to school. At that time, I was living on the 13th floor of a high rise apartment building in the heart of a major U.S. city. No one knew, on September 12th, whether there were plans to attack other buildings. The university campus felt safer than home.

At a loss for what to do with myself over the next few hours until my next class, I wandered toward the student center. I had a vague notion I might try to give blood. Back then I had very low blood pressure and I was also terrified of needles, so I was one of those people who passed out cold nearly every time I had my blood drawn. But being Type O, so I was always being asked to give blood. I resolved to do it this time.

It seemed the thing to do, that day. It seemed the only thing most people could think of to do.

I'd seen so many flags on my trip in to school that morning. Flags on houses. Flags on t-shirts. Flags taped up in gas station windows, and draped over restaurant awnings, and flapping from the antennas of cars. For the first time in my life I felt guilty for not owning any patriotic clothing. Normally I wasn't into that sort of thing. I thought people who wore flags all of the time were posers. I wore a lot of black, myself. I was twenty.

As soon as I got to the student center, I could tell the line for the blood drive was much too long for me to join. I'd never make to to my next class in time if I waited in it. I felt simultaneously guilty and relieved. It would have been sort of embarrassing to faint in front of so many people. But still. But still. I decided I would try to come back later, after class.

I wandered around the student center, looking for someone I knew, someone to talk to about something mind-numbingly ordinary, like today's menu at the cafeteria, so I could push from my mind endlessly looping miniature television images of people jumping purposefully to their deaths to escape the pain of flames.

I didn't see anyone I knew. So I wandered in circles, and tried not to think of burning people, and worried. And I didn't just worry about my high rise apartment.

I worried about my old high school friend Fahd, an American Muslim whose parents were immigrants. He had taken me to the prom senior year; I was the first girl he'd ever danced with. I worried about my friend Ayesha, whose mother had once smiled as she told me the children in her pediatric practice called her Mother Mary because she wore a scarf over her hair.

I worried about my Hindi teacher, an Indian Muslim woman with pale skin who loved to argue in a friendly way with the Hindu girls in my class over which religion had done more to advance feminism in India, Hinduism or Islam. I worried about my friend Hamenaz, a visiting college student from Iran, who liked to read Rumi's poetry with me.

Where were these friends of mine today? Were they safe? Were people harassing them? I had heard already that some mosques had received threats. I had heard that people who looked "Arab" were being racially profiled by the authorities, stopped by angry crowds on the street.

As I wandered in circles through the student center, trying to clear my head, a young woman standing behind a table reached out and took my arm without a word. I didn't know her.

I looked up at the sign above the table. It said Muslim Student Association.

"Here," she said. "Please take one."

Her eyes were earnest, searching. She pressed this into my hand:

The table was full of pins. How had they made these so quickly? Someone must have stayed up all night.

"We want peace," she said.

"I know. I know you do. I know." I meant it. It was all I could say.

I pinned PEACE to my backpack, and walked slowly off to class.

I keep the pin near my writing desk, now. I look at it almost every day. It helps me to remember that so many of us in this world wanted peace, on September 12th.


Cynthia Samuels said...

Just a magnificent recollection! I envy you the spectrum of your friends; when I was in high school anyone different was really exotic; the country was much whiter. It was harder to know "other" sorts of people. The gift of those relationships has, I'm, sure, been a real treasure for you. Are all those friends OK?

Jaelithe said...

Oh, yes. They were all fine.

I did go to high school with kids whose parents had come from all over the world, and who represented every major world religion. And I feel incredibly blessed to have had that experience.

Kim said...


Anonymous said...

I love that you wrote about the 12th ... everyone writes about the 11th, but in reality, there was almost MORE to say about the 12th, the emotions the NEXT day, picking yourself up, all the people who had to wake up that next day with loved ones lost and missing.

I really identify with this because I , too, was in school. I was in DC. I'm curious about what city you were in.

Were you really only 20? I was 21.

Fraulein N said...

Wow. This was incredibly moving.

Lisa said...

What a beautiful post Jae.

Anonymous said...

it a beautiful post.

it's so interesting to me, to read this account of your September 12th as I was living mine just right down Lindell from you.