Remembering on Sept. 11

September 11, 2012
Door in Fez. Our trip to Morocco opened a doorway and gave us a peek into Islam and the Moslem world.

This anniversary always poses a dilemma for me because there’s a lot of knee-jerk stuff surrounding it; a lot of leftover boot-in-your-ass-American-way craziness from the Bush administration. “W,” that is, and his lies linking the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center to Iraq in order to justify a war.

The victims of the attacks were, sadly, people in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m sorry for them. I know the angels took them under their care and their souls are on to their next assignment, which I hope will be less fraught than their last. Innocent victims, they were. Blessings on them and their families.

But I’m not sure what exactly I’m supposed to “remember” on this anniversary.  That there are bad people in the world? Just reading the local news tells me that. That Islam is bad? No. That Saudi politicians are corrupt? Well, yeah, and so are ours.

What I DO remember, the Bush lies, the war for oil, dead Americans for oil–stuff like that–it’s not the flag-waving kind of remembrance that’s politically correct.

I REFUSE to try to make remembrance into a holy war against Islam, men in robes and turbans, women in veils. NO.

While we were in Morocco, our tour guide invited our very small group to tea with his parents. His father is an imam, now retired.

When we arrived, the imam was ailing. The sitting room was a steep flight of stone stairs up, and the imam’s knees needed surgery. He was not well enough overall for surgery, so his mobility would be seriously impaired for the remainder of his life.

“My father says he is sorry he can not come upstairs to have tea with you,” our guide said. We climbed the stairs and our guide’s mother, a beautiful, veiled woman in her  70s who never allows photographs, prepared mint tea for us.

She sat next to me. She had no English. I had no Arabic. And yet, she spoke to me with her beautiful, kohl-rimmed eyes, and I spoke to her with mine.  She took my and and looked deeply into my eyes. No words, but clear communication. Before long, we both were in tears, in recognition of our humanness and that despite cultural differences, there was no divide between us.

A moment later, I heard someone in the doorway. It was the imam. He had crawled painfully up the steep set of stone steps to join us for tea. On his hands and knees. It was, after all, the courteous thing to do. To honor us, his guests.

The imam

It was we who should honor him, I knew. He crawled to a corner and reclined on the floor cushions. It took him some time to catch his breath.

His aura was that of a gentle and fair man. A wise man. Not one of the shrieking imams on the news.

It was, in every way, a powerful cultural experience.And a spiritual one.

I just finished a beautifully written, impactful memoir called The Butterfly Mosque, written by G. Willow Wilson, an American who converted to Islam, married an Egyptian and has lived in both worlds. I highly recommend it.

Toward the end, she visits with Abdullah, a local tribal leader in Egypt. Inevitably, the clash of our two civilizations comes up in the conversation.

She says to him, in the book, “I don’t think it’s possible to make a dent in this…”  She means the collision of Islamic and western lifestyles, values, customs, spirituality. The gap that seems to have only grown wider since the terrorist attacks in 2001.

Abdullah had a different view.

We yet may,” said Abdullah. His tone was quiet and confident, not patronizing….

“And if not,” Abdullah continued after a pause, “we have our own lives.”  He turned back and smiled at me. No doubt shadowed his face.

So this is what I think:

September 11 comes and goes every year.

It’s not getting any easier for politicians to make a dent in the cultural clash. They continue to divide us in the worst of ways.

Perhaps the way to make a dent is to do so ourselves.

To go beyond the screaming heads on television.

To remain open to learning.

I bless those whose lives were taken all those years ago.

But, we have our own lives, and they go on.

It is up to us to close that divide.

That’s what I think about when I remember September 11, 2001.

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  1. […] had with an imam in Morocco a few years ago. It was nothing like I thought it would be and you can read about it here. I hope you […]

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