Sunday, September 11, 2011

God Bless America

As salaam alaikum,

Of all the patriotic songs that I learned at some point during my primary and secondary schooling, I somehow never knew God Bless America until the days following 9/11. As I was a 16-year-old in Michigan who had never been anywhere near the east coast, I did not know what the twin towers were when I saw the first building collapse. I didn't really know what was going on...I thought they were showing the demolition of some really large buildings shortly after my English teacher turned on the television in the room until I watched some of the footage from the first, then the second plane, flying into the building.

The rest of the day in school was surreal. I didn't realize the gravity of things until one of my classmates, who had family in the city, cried hysterically as she could not get in touch with anyone because the cell phone lines were all tied up. It was eerie that day in band practice as we watched a singular plane in the sky fly to its destination, as the rest of airspace was grounded. It was startling to go home and see my mother freaking out, my mother, who had lived through the assassination of a US president, because she'd never experienced anything like that before.

We changed our show in band at the last minute. That Friday, September 14, we put on a tasteful show with no fancy formations, no high step or traditional step. Just us standing in lines, playing a powerful arrangement of "God Bless America." I still remember what it felt like to be standing there, on the field, playing that, feeling the brass swell over the what would been the sung refrain, "white with foam..." The snare drums marching forward resolutely over "God bless America."

My home sweet home...

It's been ten years. I'm not an awkward 16-year-old girl anymore. I'm a 26-year-old woman, applying to residency in family medicine. Back then, I came from a black Muslim family, and now I am a black Muslim woman. Ten years ago, I didn't know how being a Muslim in this country would change after the attacks and the "Muslim" names of the terrorists would be recited and memorized over the news, how George Bush affirming that Islam was "a religion of peace" would not mean anything, how these terrorists would work tirelessly with certain media sources to smear the religion that I was independently returning to embrace.

I didn't know how many lives would ultimately be lost as two towers, an entire area code, collapsed from the screen and people screamed. It's something I can't imagine, like two pillars of a society, gone. I can't even imagine what it would be like to go home and my house was a smoldering pile of embers, to go to school and find the med school toppled, destroyed. I still can't imagine what the lives of those who senselessly lost their loved ones must be like, as their existence is hyped for the 10 year anniversary and they are all but forgotten in the interim.

My home sweet home.

The world is different now. Children have been born and are 10 years old today, entering the fourth grade, a lot of them. People who witnessed it have died, and people who will have no idea what it was like to live through it were born. We've since gone from having a surplus to a deficit. We went from our biggest concern being the incompetence the president to support our president to being glad he's out of office to being critical of his successor. People who were not Muslim before 9/11 are Muslim now.

I never flew before 9/11 so I never knew what it was like to not take off my shoes and remove my laptop, but I comply. I never visited New York until 2006, 5 years after the skyline changed forever. I never really knew what it was like to be Muslim in a pre-9/11 world.

On this day, God bless those who lost their lives on this day, 10 years ago, in the wanton act of aggression against innocents, the likes of which continues on other frontiers but has seldom touched us. God bless the families of those who lost their lives, who will benefit more from our prayers than our hyped eulogies that will for sure be all over the television today. God bless the children, especially, who lost their parents on that day.

And God bless the believers in this country, no matter what religion we call ourselves. A nation is an imagined entity with imaginary borders and imagined meaning. But for me, my country is made up of diverse people who believe in God and try to do good works as they see fit, and these are better than my country men and women. These are my brothers and sisters in faith. So God bless us all, those among us, and those who will be joining us.

These are my people, this is who I know. They, like me, were born or raised in this country. My home sweet home.

So God bless this, that I know, and protect us all from the evil that threatens to derail us all.

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