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Reflections on 9/11 after violence in Middle East

Bonnie Willis's picture

Sept. 11, 2001 is a day I will never forget. But this 11th anniversary — as it was on that fateful day — started off as just another hopeful day in America.

This year I was attending an all-day client team meeting. The meeting started at 8:30 a.m., and I sat at a conference table with 10 other people looking out the window at a beautiful pristine sky, flat landscape covered with trees, and small buildings.

It was difficult for me to keep my mind focused on the meeting. I kept looking at my phone every few minutes waiting for 8:57 a.m., the time when the first plane hit the World Trade Center (WTC). I wondered what the team would do when the time came and whether or not anyone would acknowledge the memory of that day.

While I can barely remember what I did last week, I kept remembering 9/11 almost like it happened last week.

At the time I lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., and worked in Manhattan — more specifically, I worked at The King’s College in the Empire State Building.

The morning of 9/11, around 9 a.m., I was reading a book as my train was crossing the Brooklyn Bridge. As I sat there, I heard people gasping and murmuring. Then everyone began to cross over to the left side of the train to see the Manhattan skyline.

At that moment, time seemed to literally slow down, and I felt a weight on my heart. I knew something was desperately wrong, and I, along with most of my fellow commuters, immediately began to pray.

I then turned around and looked outside my train window to see a building — only one, because the second had not been hit yet — in the distance with a black hole at the top and smoke coming out of it. I prayed again, and within a minute or so we had crossed the bridge and were underground again.

After arriving at my train stop, I quickly walked a couple of blocks to the Empire State Building. There, an officer told me that the building had been closed by order of Mayor Giuliani. So, I decided to just go window shopping a bit. I still had no clue of what was really going on. But that was about to change.

A television in one of the stores announced the breaking news: Our country was under attack. Fear and uncertainty gripped me. And my situation was not helped by the fact that cell phones were jammed.

The atmosphere was like a whirlwind of confusion. Trains were not running as usual; only a few trains were allowed to leave the city. Millions of people were in the streets trying to get to a safe place or simply back to their loved ones. The only thing I knew to do was to walk in the opposite direction of the WTC.

I cannot write to you the all the details that took place those first 24 hours. All I know is that I felt very fortunate because I was able to get on one of the last trains that left New York. I was able to make it into New Jersey, where my husband was working, and would now be stranded indefinitely.

But, considering the circumstances, we were just happy to be together. Unfortunately, however, the fear that gripped me that fateful day lingered on for about two months as I continuously had nightmares about planes and collapsing buildings.

Now, 11 years later, I was sitting in a ninth-floor conference room looking out on a beautiful Georgia landscape underneath a peaceful morning sky, feeling at peace, and safe. Little did I know about what was taking place in the Middle East.

Later that day, the serenity I felt earlier quickly disappeared as I began to watch news reports of violent protests in the Middle East. I learned that Egyptians were raiding our embassy, ripping down our flag and hoisting Al Qaeda’s flag.

Moreover, four Americans were killed in Libya — including our ambassador — and violent protests against America was erupting in around 20 different Muslim countries. The American flag was being torn and burnt by violent protesters, yelling and screaming, vandalizing buildings and businesses.

And all of this, we are being told, is due to an American producing a film that was religiously offensive to the Muslims.

Certainly, we should all agree to respect the faith, or religion of others. And some may even believe that these protesters are justified in their anger towards America.

But a violent response to a perceived lack of such respect, especially by a private citizen, is incomprehensible.

Unfortunately, by their words and deeds, it seems that these protesters in no way respect the right of anything or any American. It seems as if they are driven by more than just some film that most people — including themselves — have not even seen. And it begs the question, what does the anniversary of 9/11 have to do with these violent protests?

Ultimately, I suppose that is how people are able to commit acts of terror and violence against others. Such terrorists become consumed in their own views and desires that they no longer see those they disagree with as persons.

Rather, they take every opportunity they get to treat people, things, concepts, or symbols they disagree with as if they should not exist. How else could anyone fly planes into buildings killing thousands? How could thousands angrily and violently protest, exhibiting such bitter hatred towards people they’ve never met?

Despite all the frightening images and painful memories of 9/11, I pray that I never look upon a person whom I do not know and feel hatred in my heart because of some category they fall into, or because of some disagreement I may have with them.

Should that ever happen, then it would not have been just the towers that fell on 9/11, but also my very soul.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]

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