9/11: In Remembrance
When I was a senior in college, I went to India for the second time. This time as a student, and not alone, but with my soon-to-be-husband. We were studying Tibetan culture, and traveled through Tibet and Nepal before settling in the tiny mountain town of McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala, Northern India, in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Throughout the months of our stay, I lived with a young Tibetan mother and her five-year-old son. They had a tiny, one-room apartment with a cement floor, three beds, one clothes bureau, a television, and a bathroom down the hall we shared with the neighbors.
There were house spiders as big as my hand, and instead of stray cats meowing at the door, we had wild gangs of rambunctious monkeys playing on the balcony outside our windows. It was intense, to say the least.
One day, I returned to this little home after teaching English down the road to Tibetan refugees, and found my new family and a few of their friends sitting with eyes transfixed on the television. They were all watching the BBC news, and the images on the screen were alarming.
When my host mother told me that someone had attacked America, I fell to the floor criss-cross applesauce in front of the screen, and didn’t move for the rest of the night.
I’ll never, ever, in all my life, forget that first image of the wings of a plane sticking out the side of the World Trade Center.
It was a strange experience, and an unusual place to experience it in. But here’s what I remember most. Two of our Kashmiri Muslim friends buying us tea, comforting our sorrow, and sitting with us in compassionate silence.
And then the whole town coming together in an evening of prayer, walking through the streets holding candles in silent vigil as we all prayed for world peace and solace for the dead.
In response to the violence, the community around us acted in love.
This past weekend my husband and I got to spend a couple of days in New York City. We didn’t have a ton of time for sight-seeing, but I convinced him to go to the 9/11 Memorial with me. I’m not sure why, but it felt like something I needed to do. And I’m glad we went.
It’s a hard place to describe, but New York City itself is hard to describe, something that needs to be experienced to be understood. A city so alive that it’s like its own living organism, offering an intoxicating journey of the senses accompanied by a constant cacophony of sounds.
But when you reach the Memorial, there’s an unusual sense of quiet and stillness, with the urban symphony dulled by the humming rush of eternal waterfalls. Millions of gallons of water rushing over cold, gray stone, into a deep, dark abyss. Two giant graves for the dead.
I know it sounds strange, but when I looked down into the massive holes, I could hear them and feel them all around me. And it made me weep.
We moved on to other beautiful sights, and still ended up having an amazing weekend. But New York is like that. Stubbornly, tenaciously optimistic and fabulous in its own right.
New York is a fascinating picture of the vastness of human potential- how humans can build to the heavens and also dig massive graves- and how we each hold the choice in our own hands.
Some people experience pain and allow it to burrow deep inside them, where the seeds of hatred and fear sprout invasive roots that poison their souls. These are the people who cause the greatest hurt. They’re the ones creating big black graves in the world around them, leaving cavernous paths of destruction in their wake.
But what I love about New York is that it keeps growing. It keeps building. And it never sleeps. It makes memorials out of the holes and plants groves of trees around them. It says, These wounds might not ever heal. But we will keep building. And we’ll never stop growing.
I think that’s the real beauty of humanity. Not just that humans can create, but they can continue creating after they have been hurt. We always have a choice, and our ability to choose love in the face of evil is what gives me hope.
We never forget. But more importantly still, we never give in to hate. And we never, ever stop growing.
Love is our greatest revenge. And love will always prevail.