The Ninth Anniversary of 9/11 and our Profound Responsibility to Work Toward Peace

Memorial lights at Ground Zero on 9/11/09. (Photo by Tony Zeoli.)

Each year since 9/11,  I have witnessed the blue lights that rise from Ground Zero, memorializing the Twin Towers and all that was lost on that day.  Each year I have watched the TV as the names of the victims of terrorism are read.  I cry along with the countless mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, husbands, wives, friends, co-workers, and strangers who weep for what our nation and our world experienced on a day that will live on in our history books.  I have visited the site on 9/11 over the years to reflect, take photos, observe the stillness of the space in such a bustling city, to cry, to think, to hope.  Here is a photo of me last year at the site taking photos and taking a moment to show the American symbol for peace.  (Note the 2 young women in the distance under my camera looking up at the lights, and the sign behind them referencing the memorial.)

That’s me taking photos of the memorial lights in NYC on 9/11/09. (Photo by Tony Zeoli.)

If you’ve read my other posts about 9/11, you’ll know that my sister, brother-in-law, and cousin worked in the city on that day and that I spent the day on the phone trying to locate them.  My brother-in-law was the most challenging to find, as he worked near the site and ended up walking home to Queens without phone access during most of his walk.  His mother called from Ireland to find out if he was ok, and while my sister was safe at home with their 8 1/2 month old daughter that morning, she could not answer the question right away. Thankfully, he was safe.  So many others weren’t, and we were so grateful that he was not in harm’s way that day.

My love, Tony, witnessed the buildings burning from the rooftop of his apartment building in Brooklyn.  He saw people leap to their death and smelled the stench of death for months afterward.  He had nightmares, experienced bouts of anxiety and still has a very difficult time looking at pictures of the towers.  He was forever changed by that experience.  We all were, regardless of where we physically stood at the time of the attacks in NY and Washington DC.

As an international educator, but perhaps more importantly, as a human being, I believe that we have an urgent responsibility to work toward peace.  Nine years later, I see more dialogue about differences and hatred than perhaps ever before.  I remember that sense of community, of unity, of humanity, in the weeks and months after that horrific attack.  People helped each other.  Period. We did not ask if you were “for or against” an Islamic Center in downtown Manhattan.  We did not ask what your political affiliation was. We did not ask who you voted for, what your religion was, what your place of origin was, if you were straight or gay, if you had been laid off, if you had a home that was in foreclosure, if you required government services, if you were an immigrant, if you were here legally or otherwise – or any other questions.  We asked how we could help our fellow man/woman.  And in the days after 9/11, we did. At least in New York City, for a few months, we did.

Our American Congress promised to “stand together” and in a gesture of our unity, stood on the steps of the US Capitol and sang “God Bless America.”  Today, they are more divided than ever.  Apparently in the US, mid-term elections are more important that unity and peaceful solutions to American (and world) issues.

I have had countless debates and discussions with friends and complete strangers about the Islamic Center that will be built near Ground Zero.  Why do I support it?  Simply put: I support it because Islam did not kill all of those beautiful people on 9/11;  evil and hateful extremists, using the name of an otherwise peaceful mainstream religion, murdered those people.  They killed people of all faiths on that day, including Muslims.  But most importantly, the common denominator of that day is that people were murdered – no matter what their faith (or desire not to identify with one), religion, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, social status, etc.

And if we break it down, the common denominator on 9/11 is that we are all human, we all feel pain, we all love and we all need peace and unity.  And the only way to do so is to offer serious attempts at dialogue.  Politics and extremist viewpoints are not invited to the party this time.

And despite the mainstream media focusing on a country divided – I was delighted to see an example of what we are all truly capable of in this world.  This example is simple: love thy neighbor.  We should not claim that as a Christian or Muslim value, we should claim it to be a HUMAN value, as humanity is the common denominator in this life that we each live on this planet.

So, as 9/11 approaches and we honor those who were lost, we look at the faces of the people left behind in mourning, we recall the thousands of workers and volunteers who ran to the site and worked there for years to search for bodies and to begin the cleanup and rebuilding efforts, to all that came together that day – I ask you to watch this incredible example of what we are capable of as human beings:

I think that all it takes is some humanity.  And on this ninth anniversary of 9/11, we could sure use some.  Peace to you all.