Sunday, September 11, 2011

Reflections on 9/11

Earlier this week in Sweden I was caught of guard while listening to Swedish Public Radio.  They were doing a story about  9/11.  In between the Swedish news reporters dialogue, they inserted audio clips of American's recorded on that day 10 years ago.  After a brief moment of disbelief, I checked the calendar it was only the 7th.  I listened mesmerized to the words in Swedish that I couldn't understand, but somehow knew the retelling.  I felt a large knot growing in my stomach, and my throat.  Their tone was detached but respectfully somber.

Has it really been 10 years since that clear blue September morning?  If I didn't have a child who just turned 10 marking the time, I wouldn't have been sure.  That morning she was a 5 week old in my arms, her 3 year old sister playing near by, as I watched the events unfold.  The emotions of that day still surprisingly fresh even now.

When I was a kid the Twin Towers defined the city skyline, like a distant beacon.  For a kid from the 'burbs, heading down the west side, they were the first visible landmark that fed the fervor of our anticipation of a city visit.  Even if we were only passing by, up river over the Tappan Zee Bridge, we would stretch our necks and look backwards, reveling in awe at a glimpse of  NYC.  Years later, traveling over the same bridge driving home from college in Pennsylvania, I would careen my neck to catch sight of the tall duo.  Once spotted I would smile happily as the warm wash of emotions spread, I was home.  I imagine the New York skyline effects most people in some way.  Growing up in New York in the 70's and 80's the Twin Towers defined that sky.

It was horrifying to watch them fall. The loss. The shock. The fear. The questions.  The numb disbelief that the Towers and all the people in and around them at the time, were gone.  I remember pulling myself away from the TV, worried about the images' effect on my three year old.  We went outside under the unnaturally silent September sky.  The only air traffic for days after was rumbling fighter jets, flying in formation.  To this day I have trouble comprehending the depth of hatred that was focused on the United States.

It was clear, as an American I could no longer make assumptions of who were friends and who were enemies.  Living abroad back then would have seemed like engaging in a game of Russian roulette, but here I am, ten years later with my husband and three children in Sweden.

Yesterday, we were in central Stockholm shopping for a navigation system and vacuum, to help us find our way in our new land, and keep our Dream House, well, dreamy.  After selecting our dammsugare (vacuum), Finance Guy went off to GPS land, while KC and I wandered through the DVD isles.  A while later he stopped at the end of the isle with a tall middle eastern sales associate and waved to me to follow him to the front.  The man led us to side department with a register with another  middle eastern associate, away from the main check out cue that was at least 15 people deep.  I stood by as Finance Guy checked out.

We loaded our new vacuum in our stroller, and headed out towards the Tunnelbanen station. As we walked Finance Guy retold his interaction with the two sales associates at the store.  It turned out they were both from Iraq.  The Iraqi man asked Finance Guy where he was from.  He told them the US.  They said they left Iraq because there were too many wars. One had been in Sweden for 15 years, but the other live in Los Angeles for two years.  Finance Guy, being his humorous self said oh, that's west side, I'm from Phillie, that's east side and proceeded to throw a gang sign on his chest with his hand.  The Iraqi laughed and replied by throwing the westside gang sign with his hand.

I listened in utter disbelief. Ten years ago almost to the day, the Iraqi's countrymen brought down the Twin Towers.  For almost a decade since my countrymen have been waging a war in their homeland. Yet here in a Gigantum in Stockholm our paths crossed. As we continued our walk through the bustling sidewalks, I smiled happily as the warm wash of emotions spread through me. The pain of the events of 9/11 will probably never fully leave my heart, but clearly it is still not good to make assumptions about who's friends, and who's enemies.


  1. Thank you for a thoughtful and sensitive post. But if I may impose a quibble, the attackers on 9/11 were not Iraqis.

  2. Inquisitive,

    Thanks for your comment and I welcome intelligent quibbles such as yours. You are entirely correct the 9/11 attackers were Saudi, Egyptian, Lebanese, and from the UAE. Osama bin Laden was Saudi Arabian. In sorting through my memories of that day, I neglected to check the facts before posting.

    I find it even more humbling in light of those facts that the gentlemen from Iraq were as open and receptive to us as they were. If my homeland had been occupied for 10 years by another country's soldier, I'm not sure I could have been so gracious.

    Thanks again for your comment and the kindness of its tone.

    Warm Regards,