Antithesis to 9/11 Attackers: On Cross-cultural Connection

In the U.S., we are approaching a horrible anniversary: a day on which 3,000 people were lost in an attack on buildings in New York and Washington D.C. I, as do many I’m sure, have vivid memories of what I was up to that beautiful pre-Fall day.

The night prior, I had been told some things by a person whom I called my ex-girlfriend, but, well, read this entry for hints. Anyway, she made some comments about my sociability or lack of that I perceived as having merit, and so I felt a little sad as I drifted off.

On the day in question, I showered in the communal bathroom at my UNC Charlotte dorm, then headed back into my room where I flicked on the Today Show as usual. When I heard talk of a plane striking the World Trade Center, my initial thought was “how tragic for the pilot. Or perhaps he or she will have managed to survive.” You see, I thought that it was a small plane or some sort. But the seriousness of the shows hosts’ voices, along with the fact that the jovial background music that usually accompanies stories had been turned off caused me to freeze, deodorant in one hand, clothing in the other, as the depth of the situation hit me.

The rest of that day passed in a confusing fog of oddly relevant coursework on building community, dealing with stress after major traumatic events, and the like. I felt bad being even the least bit happy as buildings in those cities burned, taking with them businesses and lives. By nightfall, I was just glad to slip into the relative obscurity of sleep, with the erie silence of the skies seeing me off (I could usually hear airliners passing from that location).

One of my most vivid memories happened on the following day. As I sat in the lobby of an academic building, an individual from Saudi Arabia plopped down in the seat beside me and began near-breathlessly imparting his story of how he had come here to get a degree in Engineering. He talked of likes and dislikes, hobbies, and related vric a vrac. I think his intention was to show that not all Muslims or Arabs harbored desires to act in this way, as well as to counter the isolation and discrimination he may already have been experiencing in the wake of the attack.

Fast-forward about 10 years to 2011. I was at the University of North Carolina, in the graduate program then known as Rehabilitation Counseling and Psychology but now having some other name with the acronyms CRMH. I had been working all day to gather research for my Thesis-style paper (which I never finished, but that’s another story) and so after listening to one of the last Space Shuttle launches, I gathered my things and prepared to exit that academic building.

“Do you need help?” I heard an accented voice ask.

Not really,” I replied, “but I always welcome the company.”

So this woman, who turned out to be from Lebanon, walked with me to the bus stop and gave me her number, indicating that she wanted to meet up for coffee someday. We had many good times together: going to a music festival at Chapel Hill’s University Mall and having beer and burgers with her co-workers, shopping in that mall and tasting wine in Southern Season (I joked that she would have to carry me out if I consumed another drop,) and attending two services at the Greek Orthodox church of which she was a part (once my left-side hearing aid died at the service’s end, a huge disaster!)

SIDENOTE: I know that was a really long sentence, but I hear William Falkner did it, so so can I!

The last time we met, a day before she ventured back to Beirut to take a professorial position after having completed a post-doc at UNC in some pathology-related field, was on September 11, 2012, which has always struck me as ironic. I had attempted to persuade her to stay here, but she wanted more than anything to return to her culture. I suppose I can understand that.

On that day, she gave me some grocery money that I half-heartedly tried to refuse but did really need then, took me to Chick FilA for a sandwich and their delicious waffle fries, and left me on my doorstep with a hug and good-bye. We only talked a couple of times thereafter, having vowed to stay in touch but well one knows how that goes. The last time I spoke to her was August of 2013, and I hope only that whatever became of her that she managed to prosper. I thank her for being willing to interact with someone who is so obviously different.

And there in lies the main point of my post: differences of race/ethnicity, be they sociologic or, to a lesser degree, biologic, do exist and this is fine and should be celebrated. My issue is when people use these differences to needlessly hate, dismissing people simply based on skin color or other attributes, like ability/disability, that are readily apparent. Because at the heard of it, we all want the same things: to love and be loved, live as we want in work and play, and survive. I know these words are often repeated, but will continue to do so until these basic understandings are more widely held, praying that such a thing happens someday.

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