I was there, at the base of the first tower when it fell. That night I wrote a piece for Time magazine to make sense of what happened. And each year on 9/11 I write again. This year I was thinking that I’ve been back to New York City so often with my kids that maybe my 9/11 phase of life has passed…
But then I decided to tell you a story.
After 9/11 my ex-husband volunteered to connect lawyers with immigrants who were illegally detained. One of those immigrants was a Palestinian guy who was in the US raising money to fight the Israelis. His seventeen-year-old son was in New York helping him. So the night the dad went to jail, the son had nowhere to live. The other volunteers decided he should go home with someone since he was too young to be by himself. So he went to our apartment.
You might think it’s weird for a Jew to be helping out a Palestinian who is raising money to fight the Jews. I am left of center on the Palestinian question. I’m not sure how far left. But I’m definitely able to put aside grievances to take care of a kid who is in a new country with nowhere to sleep.
And anyway, the Jewish problem was not the big problem in our apartment.
Before he retired, my Ex’s dad was huge in the defense industry and worried constantly that I would do something insane to make him lose his security clearance. (Did you know that the person who has the clearance is not usually the problem but rather a nut case who is close to him?) So my Ex’s dad told us that if we were going to harbor an illegal Palestinian we should stop using our phones.
We thought he was nuts. People are listening in on our phones? We would make jokes like we were talking to the government when we talked on our phones. But my father-in-law stopped talking to us while the Palestinian was at our house.
(Now I know why. Now I think about all the other things he told us. Like the safest place to sit on a plane is in the middle of the back. Not too close to the exit because the people there get sucked out. And also because the planes often break in half. The front is the least safe. Which makes sense -there’s no way airlines could charge extra money for the safest seats. He also told us that in a nuclear war, the mountains outside of Seattle are the safest, because of how winds on earth move. I should publish a book: Things My Ex Father-in-Law Told Me.)
Tariq. That was the boy’s name. I thought we would just give him a place to sleep, and maybe I’d take him for breakfast in the morning, and then he’d be on his way.
But after breakfast he had nowhere to go. So my Ex went back to rescue prisoners and I spent the day with Tariq. In the apartment. It was a small apartment. It’s New York City, after all.
He read. He talked on the phone. Actually on my phone, because he didn’t have a phone.
The next day he asked me for money.
You don’t have any money?
How did you and your dad live?
Apparently people in the movement supported his dad. He is the head of the movement in the US.
Tariq mentioned the movement a lot and Icould not quite put my finger on what it was, because Tariq really had nowhere to go and nothing to do, so I was having a hard time believing the movement was significantly large.
I gave him money. I asked him how much he needed for the week because I felt bad that he might have to ask every day. I gave him $40.
It was gone the next day. I asked him where it went.
He bought a phone card. And meals.
At the diner.
I told him to eat at the apartment.
He said he didn’t know how.
In fact, he had very few life skills. He didn’t have another set of clothes and he didn’t seem to mind. He was in constant survival mode. He was fighting the cause. But the thing is, there was no fight in our apartment. And there was no fight he could do with his dad because his dad’s fight now was that he was being illegally detained.
In Tariq’s mind he was fighting for Palestine but he didn’t actually know how to do it on his own. He didn’t know how to do anything on his own. He didn’t know how to go to bed and wake up on a schedule. He didn’t plan meal times. He didn’t plan anything. He worked best in crisis but there was no crisis.
He sort of focused on the crisis of his dad in jail. But Tariq had no idea how to do anything. His dad had lead the fight his whole life. Tariq did not know how to lead a fight. His maturity level was actually really low because he was so focused on the fight instead of on his own development.
Tariq was traumatized from not being able to focus on himself.
I was going to skip writing about 9/11 this year. I couldn’t figure out why I was still writing. Now I see, though, that after 9/11 I received lots of trauma counseling. The counselors taught me how to relive the fear until I could reframe it and then I understood how to learn from it. All of that time could be summarized as personal development.
I want to tell you that I saved Tariq. But I didn’t. After three weeks, Tariq went to someone else’s house.
But I saved myself. And I think I still write about 9/11 to celebrate that, and to take time each year to be thankful for learning how to grow from bad events in my life rather than avoiding them. I am always thinking of labels I don’t like for this blog. I don’t like “women’s blog” or “mom’s blog” or “personal development blog”. Really I don’t like anything except “rock star blog.”
But the reason I couldn’t stand NOT to write on 9/11 is because this really is a personal development blog. And for me, 9/11 is a celebration of the resilience we find to turn turn setbacks into twists on the path of personal development.