I could tell we weren’t going to rush through the 9/11 Museum when the room began sniffling during the introductory movie. Uninvited waves of memories: the air temperature and sharpness of that particular day, that goofy shirt I was wearing, the cafe smell where thirdhand news was dismissed as inaccurate, film clips the world saw repeatedly, and the particular feeling of life as we knew it having changed.
Sadness isn’t something I seek out, in fact more than I need comes to me uninvited. Yet these exhibits helped me return to the agony of that day while focusing on bravery and our collective humanity. I left connected to the world, not isolated. I was moved by many candid photographs of people near the towers watching the events unfold, shocked, so many with hands either over their mouths or on cheeks.
“Why do we do that with our hands?” became as important a question as “Why did they do that?”
At some point near the end, there was a photograph of a woman holding a sign telling us that as a Muslim, she was as appalled as anyone else. Oh that poor woman, the stereotypes she was most likely battling.
I thought a lot about stereotypers that afternoon after involuntarily receiving “danger” messages when seeing anyone of Arab extraction (as was my father), particularly in non-Western dress.
I thought of my younger days when I would be heckled by construction workers, it really could be pretty awful. While I was most likely heckled by men who weren’t construction workers, and conversely, not heckled by some construction workers, my limbic system received enough data to help inform these “fight or flight” situations. The part of me that is a creature in the natural world determined that construction workers are a problem and should be avoided. A stereotype indeed, but based on observations and experiences.
I like to think that were I still young and pretty, while I would still cross the street to avoid a crew eating lunch, I would gladly share a meal with a neighbor who happened to work in construction, the subtle difference being that it would be with an individual rather than a intimidating gang.
I can see that having limited data could lead to mistrust, and while our “fight or flight” response often kicks in, it seems a good time to carefully re-examine each situational response, using a tenet central to our country’s being, that each of us is innocent until proven guilty.
This is the slurry wall that was built before the Towers were erected, designed to keep the Hudson River in it’s place. There was fear that this would collapse after the towers did, but it stayed put. There is a fair amount of it on display in the museum.
Although this is a joist made of steel, the way emergency workers personalized this last column of the towers invites visitors to come in for a visit, and feel some of it’s compassion and connection.
One of the brave ladder trucks that was “riding heavy” that day.
Steel beam bent from the force of the building falling.
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ps. These are my dad’s (and my) peeps, Syrian from Aleppo.