Tough Being an American in Ireland on 9/11 anniversary
I got to keep my Dad; she lost hers.
Everyone has a September 11th story; I can’t tell mine without telling hers, and my feelings encompass everything that lies in the gulf between guilt and gratitude.
But you don’t have to be a New Yorker to have been deeply affected by September 11, 2001. I’ve definitely learned that in my time abroad.
Even if people are unhappy about America’s policies, they tread compassionately on the subject of September 11th. Often, people will volunteer their experiences from that day with me, even if we’ve just met.
A few months back, I sat down to have tea with an Irish man after an interview. As is the case in Irish households, when we sat down, family members came flooding in from every doorway, and our tea for two turned into lunch for six. We chatted pleasantly for a time, and then, someone said something along the lines of, “It was a terrible thing, September 11th, wasn’t it?”
For the next hour, each of the family members offered me stories from September 11, 2001. I gave an abridged version of my story, and no one seemed to mind; I think they just wanted to talk with someone who understood how they felt, and I was happy to listen.
As an American, I know that I can go almost anywhere in the world, and if September 11th comes up, someone will sit beside me and talk to me; even if just for that minute or two, we will exchange thoughts deeply and honestly, like old friends.
A few months ago, I was in Hungary working on a documentary film, and one evening, I was lucky enough to have dinner with my co-producer’s family. After we offered friendly greetings and struggled through the few English and Hungarian words we knew, one person suddenly piped up, “We were really sorry about September 11th. Were you there?”
And that’s when it hit me: people mention that date because it’s the day we all became connected again. We all remember exactly where we were, exactly how we reacted in the days that followed; and just as I felt for my classmate’s heartbreak, people all over the world felt for America’s pain that day. Tragedy, it seems, brings out the best in human compassion.
While writing this column and listening to the news this week, I spent a lot of time thinking about a woman named Talat Hamdani, who lost her 23-year old son on September 11, 2001.
We met in New York when I was working on a documentary project about forgiveness; she was one of our sources.
Despite losing her son, and soon after, her husband, Talat became an active member of the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an advocate for civil rights, and an outspoken supporter for the proposed the Islamic center; she’s a Muslim, an American, and a victim of September 11, 2001. She has been through unimaginable pains, and yet she has dedicated her days to bringing about peace and justice.
We haven’t spoken more than a handful of times, but this year, I wrote her a Facebook message to let her know that I was thinking of her, and encouraged her to keep inspiring us all with her courage and good works.
In response, she wrote, “tough times. Messages like these keep me going ... Hugs, Talat.”