Sunday, March 18, 2007

Five Years After 9/11 . . .

Have We Changed?

By Dolores Prida

Since September 11, 2001 everyone talks about how we were “forever changed”. Some changes were immediately, painfully, apparent. There was a hole in our beloved New York’s skyline, and a larger one in our hearts. That first week, other changes were harder to see because of the tears that flowed unchecked for days.
I cried for Ann McGovern, my friend’s mom, who went to work that morning and never came back to see her lovely, just-born grandson Liam grow up. I cried for Edna Cintrón, my neighbor’s wife, who dispensed friendly smiles along with carnations at Sweet William’s flower shop. I cried for Edgardo Hernández, pastry chef at Windows on the World restaurant. I never met Edgardo. I never got to taste one of his lemon tarts. Nevertheless, I cried for him in front of a hand-made poster stuck on a wall in Times Square by hopeful relatives.
Then, I couldn’t see the changes because of the clouds of dust and smoke
hovering over ground zero. But I did see heroes and heroines. I saw fire and police men and women, paramedics, bus drivers, sanitation workers—usually invisible people we take for granted—save lives, dig for bones, keep the city running. They gave me a sense of normalcy despite the feelings of fear and vulnerability we all felt during those nightmarish first few days.
Yet, I still couldn’t see the changes the September 11th tragedy had supposedly brought about, because of the flags. There was a sea of red, white and blue hiding the horizon and distorting perspective. I was overcome with a terrible feeling. I didn’t know how to be an American during those days. For me, just waving the flag and singing “America the Beautiful” were the quick-and-easy, the cash-and-carry way to express patriotism.
It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t real.
I felt waving a flag wouldn’t make me see what I wanted to see. Waving a flag wouldn’t answer any questions: Where does the hate come from? Why did this happen? What are the wrongs we have committed and how do we right them?
Five years later, I’m still trying to see . . . waiting for answers. Five years later all I know is that there’s much we, as Americans, don’t know about other peoples and other cultures. We refuse to speak their languages. We don’t know, or don’t want to know, what makes them tick. Five years later we still think we can remake other people in our image and impose democracy with tanks and bombs. Five years later too many innocent lives have been lost. Five years later I still don’t feel bad for not waving the flag. But now I know I’m not alone.
I am an American. I love this city—my Nueva York. I love this country. And I know that being an American also means asking these and many more questions. I know that being an American also means embracing the world as it is and embracing change to make it better, not to make it as we want it to be.
Five years ago I found comfort and hope in these words. I still do.

Out beyond ideas of
Wrongdoing and rightdoing
There’s a field.
I’ll meet you there.

They were written by Jalaluddin Rumi, a 13th Century Persian poet born in Afghanistan. When he died, men of five faiths followed his coffin. He’s the most popular poet in the United States.
Ay, if only men and women of all faiths could find that field and meet and talk there—right now.
That would be a real change, for a change.

Published in the Daily News VIVA section
September 13, 2006