Wake of national tragedy invokes reflection

On Tuesday I moved around in a cloud of shock and disbelief as my brain kept returning “Error; data does not compute message.” I attended the vigils in a state of numbness. The pain I was empathizing was so deep within me, I could not feel it. I wrote the words above on Wednesday as I tried to work through my feelings. It seemed so surreal to have life erased in New York, while the basics of my life remained unchanged.

On Thursday I felt fear and grief. Fear for my cousins in New York, even though I haven’t seen or talked to them in years. Fear for my maternal cousin in Washington, D.C., who worked at the Pentagon, in the army wing, until I learned he had retired in July, and then I felt grief for all his dead colleagues. I am concerned for my German cousin working as an au pair in Washington, D.C. Will she understand what is going on? How will she react? Do I even understand what is going on?

I fear for my German brother in Berlin. He was still having emotional problems adjusting to being back in Deutschland after nine months in the United States – how will this affect him? I fear for my French brother who was supposed to fly to Taipei, Taiwan, on Thursday. I can tell myself he is in a completely different country and the officials wouldn’t let him fly unless it was absolutely safe, but I can’t convince my heart not to be afraid for him. I feel fear for my Islamic friend from Morocco – I hope Tuesday’s events won’t lead ignorant people to lash out against him and his family.

I try to find a way something positive could come out of this tragedy. I think even if this tragedy is not connected to Afghanistan, the speculation could help raise awareness in the United States and the world about what the Taliban is doing in Afghanistan. Please recognize I am not anti-Islam or anti-Afghanistan, I simply disagree with the Taliban’s abuse of human rights and oppression of women. I did believe there is a reason why things happen, but I don’t understand why this happened. Tuesday’s events can probably be traced back to the United States’ own abuses of human rights in some way. I’m even feeling some form of grief for the hijackers. They were horrible people, but they used to be human beings.

The only people I did not fear for were my parents. In thinking about my parents in Dubuque, Iowa and the events in New York, I was reminded of the slogan of The New York Times, “Not for the little old lady in Dubuque.” Dubuque is far from perfect, but it is times like this I am glad NYC is not DBQ.

As an adult, I know my parents will die someday, but as a child I believe my parents are invincible. They are not infallible, but I know they’ll always be there. Even hearing about the deaths of New York firefighters did not cause me to fear for my firefighter father, partially because I refuse to live my life in fear. I would not be able to survive on a daily basis if I feared for him every time he went into a burning building.

As I stepped onto the Washington Ave. bridge last Friday, all the bells began to ring for the national moment of reflection and mourning. The sound transcended everything except the many pairs of shoes hanging from a tree beside the West Bank side of the bridge. As I neared the bridge’s middle, the bells began to stop ringing, but their echoes hung in the air. I was left wondering, “Who am I mourning for?” In the end, this is the hardest question for me to answer.

R.R.S. Stewart is a first-year University student. Send comments to [email protected]