If you are of a certain age, you’re among the many of us who have a September 11, 2001 “Where were you?” story.
Mine involved focusing on things that have long mattered most to me:
- striving to be a caring mother
- striving to be a courageous storyteller
- intentionally using my words to make a difference.
That day was my first day back at work as a newspaper reporter, after a 12-week maternity leave.
I’d placed my infant son in his babysitter’s arms and dropped off my daughter at a nearby preschool, and was settling at my desk just before 8 a.m. in the quiet newsroom.
Suddenly, a photographer ran past me and yelled to turn on the TV – a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Then a friend called to welcome me back and to share that she’d just seen live news reports about the plane crash. Together, we watched as a second plane hit the second tower, and we knew the world had changed.
After reminding myself that both of my kids were in good care, with people who loved them and would keep them safe, I did what journalists do – went right into reporter mode, knowing that I’d have to somehow help make sense of this madness for residents of Central Virginia and beyond.
Within the hour, I was driving down a winding road south of the city to visit a local mosque. Despite growing fears for safety in the wake of the terrorists attacks, the Imam (spiritual leader) trusted me enough to let me inside the building, which was teeming with young children, because it doubled as a daycare and preschool.
There was mayhem. The phones kept ringing with death threats, frightened parents showed up to pick up their children and the Imam sought to keep everyone calm.
I saw fear and hurt in his eyes, both over the tragedy that had occurred in our nation and over the need to defend himself and the Muslims he knew and loved. He requested that I use my news article to remind people that not all Muslims are terrorists and that he, too, was grieving.
On my drive back to the Richmond Times-Dispatch newsroom, the radio waves were eerily silent and my cell phone wouldn’t work. I returned to learn from colleagues about the attack at the Pentagon and the crash of another plane that was believed to be headed to Washington, D.C.
I sat at my desk and wrote about the Imam’s plea for people to look past ethnicity and into hearts, and not to harm Americans who looked him or those in his spiritual care because of the hateful and evil acts of others – acts he also denounced.
That conversation with him, and witnessing the distress at the mosque that day, led me to write a year-long series of newspaper columns about people of various faiths – Muslims, Quakers, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and more – and to use their personal journeys to educate readers about the principles of each religion, so that perhaps we could really “see” our neighbors, colleagues and strangers and find some common ground.
What my readers (and I ) discovered through my columns is that regardless of the different commandments, laws and practices of the various faiths, the primary mandate of absolutely ALL of them is to LOVE, and to use love as a guide to honor God, live peaceably with others and flow positively through this world.
Sometimes love must be giving.
Sometimes love must be sacrificial.
Sometimes love sets boundaries.
All of the time love can heal and produce hope.
This isn’t as easy at it sounds, of course, which is why people of faith are always “practicing” their faith. But leading with love never fails and never goes out of style.
Twenty years later, as we remember this significant and painful day of loss and fear, may we also remember the love that followed in the aftermath. And may we continue striving to look past what we see on the surface and give others’ hearts a chance, while having the courage to share our own.