our grief is {not} a cry for war

the morning was bright as i waited on the maryland subway platform.  an announcer's voice punctuated the quiet and matter-of-factly relayed that there had been an attack [threat? plane crash? fire?] at the pentagon, and trains were not running there.

i think he said attack;  i'm not sure anymore.  it was alarming, but it could have been a precautionary closure.  i wasn't concerned as i boarded.

it was the fall semester of my senior year.  i was hours away from my own college and friends, enrolled in a semester called "transforming communities" during the moment that transformed everything in so many ways.

the metro was buzzing.  crowds pressed tighter as federal employees boarded, evacuating.  i still had no idea what had happened.

i arrived late to class.  our speaker was not talking about homelessness, education or whatever else had been on the day's agenda.  he said that like the kennedy assassination, we'd always remember where we were when the world trade center was attacked.

terrorists had hijacked commercial planes and flown them into the twin towers and the pentagon, exploding planes like bombs filled with people.

DC was shutting down, and class dismissed somberly after a few minutes.  in the dorm lounge nearby, students huddled around the television silently, eyes wide and mouths agape.  it was impossible to process what we were seeing:  bodies falling from skyscrapers.  people dazed and bleeding, running, covered in soot and debris.  the once imposing trade center tower--that i'd walked beneath on a family trip--sinking into the ground in a sea of smoke and screams.

i'd never seen live, unedited disaster coverage like this.   the surreal images horrified.

i took the metro back to my aunt and uncle's house, and we spent the evening together, transfixed by the coverage.

the rest of the semester was strange.  security tightened.  metal detectors multiplied.  the terror threat level fluctuated in a confusing rainbow of hues.  uniformed soldiers policed the airport with assault rifles.  president bush said that we should...go shopping.

anthrax threats made me terrified to get the mail, especially when my aunt and uncle traveled abroad for weeks, leaving me along in that house.  what good would duct tape, plastic sheeting, and jugs of water be in the face of a biological attack?

 i remember that classmates who served as interns on [white] capitol hill got the rationed anti-anthrax drugs.  [black] postal workers did not--and several died.
i remember anti-islamic sentiment.  not locally, but recounted loudly in media reports.

i worked at an after-school center in columbia heights.  many students were first-generation americans, and i wondered what kind of prejudice a child might expect to face who was growing up poor and black and muslim and american?

i remember walking past an afghan restaurant and praying for its proprietors, that their business wouldn't be vandalized.

in 21st century america, how could we be so xenophobic?  nine years later, has anything changed?  why are we still talking about burning korans and where "they" shouldn't build a cultural center?

shortly after the 9/11 attacks someone affixed this sticker to a street sign near the after-school center.  the ambiguous, partially scratched-out message captures the tension and pulse of the time perfectly:

nine years later, the sadness, anger, and longing remain.  but my grief is still not a cry for war--neither here nor anywhere else.
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