Smushing my face against the window of the taxi cab didn’t make it any easier to see the top of the Sears Tower.
“I…can’t…see.” Each whining syllable pushed my eye and nose harder into the glass. Imagine! A tower that can scrape the sky! These ginormous structures stand as a reminder of America’s ability to adapt. No more room to build out?
Fine, let’s go up. On the 35th floor out the window of my grandma’s apartment building we could see Navy Pier’s colorful explosion of fireworks at eye level. My grandma lived in the sky. Incredible!
We used to go to the airport to pick up friends or relatives and stand waiting in anticipation outside the closed door of the jetway. I would smush my face into the glass terminal windows. I did a lot of smushing as a kid. I would watch as planes the size of a whale would effortlessly sail into the sky. Since my first flight in third grade, I have loved watching the runway grow smaller, knowing I am flying, and humans don’t fly, which makes the experience super cool.
Growing up outside Chicago seemed normal enough. My school had a diverse array of students of all colors, ethnicities and religious beliefs. But students who were black, Polish or Hindi all played Oregon Trail and swung on swings and played line tag in P.E. There was nothing so different about us that could keep us from being friends.
At 8:03 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in September sitting in a desk on the third floor of my small town Iowan high school. I was sitting, staring at the television mounted on the wall in the corner of the room. I was staring at a flying whale smushing its ginormous body into the side of a magnificently tall building.
Planes are magical vehicles of transportation that sail from place to place. They are not torpedoes. Right? Skyscrapers are where people watch fireworks and trade stock and write newspapers. They are not targets. Right? These Muslim hijackers cannot possibly be the same Muslims that were a piece of my ethnically diverse childhood. Could they?
In Holland, Michigan, senior Rachel Plockmeyer’s sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Vermeer, turned on the television in time to watch United Airlines Flight 175 fly into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Mrs. Vermeer gasped. Rachel thought it had to be fake. She thought it was some toy plane. And then she realized, “What if it had been Chicago?” She suddenly felt deeply connected to the rest of the country.
On Sept. 10, 2001, Rachel had no knowledge of the Muslim world, but on Sept. 12 she thought, “Muslims are bad people.” For the first time, Rachel realized that the United States was not perfectly safe. She was scared.
Isaac “Trixy” Hendricks had a similar experience. Eleven-year-old Isaac was sitting in his sixth-grade science class in Jefferson City, Missouri when a teacher from across the hall came in and discussed something with his teacher, Mrs. Paden, in a hushed tone. Mrs. Paden quickly went and turned on the television mumbling that she was looking for the news. Just as she found the channel, Isaac and his classmates watched as the second plane crashed into the south tower.
Isaac thought it had to be caused by some human mistake. “I didn’t think it was in the human capacity to hijack a plane and willfully fly it into a building,” Isaac said, remembering that day.
Down south in Sierra Vista, Arizona, Denise Cowherd was kept completely in the dark for an entire year. It wasn’t until her fourth grade music class had a day of remembrance for the one year anniversary that Denise had any knowledge of the events of September 11. Denise grew up in a military family, and her dad was often deployed, so her mother made it a habit to keep the news off and her children’s nightmares at bay. But when Denise finally saw footage, she cried. She thought, “Why would someone have so much hatred?” In the following years, whenever Denise or her classmates saw a dark, bearded man, they would snap and say, “Terrorist!”
Six years after the attack, Rachel was assigned to read “The Crucible.” With the help of her teacher, she was able to see the connection between the “witches” of the novel and her understanding of Muslims. Rachel realized that 9/11 was executed by a fraction of Muslims with extreme hatred. She was able to see the wider picture, to see Muslims as people, and her fear went away.
A few years after Denise was exposed to the tragedy, she began to learn to “see everyone as God’s people no matter what they’ve done.” This gave her the ability to judge less and ask more about how others see and understand the world.
Isaac sees the events of September 11 as a seminal shift for his generation. Yes, it “threw some gas on the Christian-Muslim fire,” he said, but it also exposed us to “the fodder of so much dissonance and unrest.”
Looking back, it’s easy to see that after September 11, we began to question our invincibility. However, Isaac noted, we “witnessed an explosion of patriotism.”
Puzzling and burdensome as it can sometimes be, we are all learning to believe in the resurrection of hope that comes out of tragedy.