Note: as a reminder, this is one of a series of posts set in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11th, 2001.
This week has been so strange.
None of us here on campus was close to anyone who died in the attacks, but some knew people slightly--two who died in the towers and one who was injured in the Pentagon (but is still alive). A lot of people know people in New York and DC, and Allen has a dear friend who apparently had planned on being in the World Trade Center that morning but had changed his plans at the last moment. When the masters told us the news last week, Allen didn't know if his friend was alive. We didn't find out until yesterday who had survived and who hadn't.
Security Joe has gone to New York as a volunteer. A lot of the personnel from Port Authority have died and they need police. The more senior students and the masters are talking about other volunteers, former students, mostly. They're worried. Apparently, for the first few days nobody thought to issue respirators to the people working at the World Trade Center site, and there is some thought now that could have been a serious mistake. Joy knows some of the dog handlers doing search and rescue and what she hears from them is wearing on her. She's worried about the dogs, and proud of them.
It's interesting hearing all of these connections. We seem so separate here, so set apart, and yet when something like this happens, our community is in the middle of it, just like everybody else. It makes me wonder how many people I saw before I came here might have been wearing a green ring.
Classes were cancelled that Tuesday and Wednesday, but since then we've had a normal schedule. The main difference, other than how bizarre everything feels, is that all the talks and events we have in the evenings and on Saturday have been pre-empted by an ongoing workshop on Islamic and Arab history. We're all strongly encouraged to attend.
The day of the attacks, Greg said "Now we're at war--with somebody." He meant, I think, that America would respond by attacking, whether or not it turned out there is a rational target. When we found out that this was an attack by an Islamist terrorist organization, he got worried. I'm sure the situation reminded him of Pearl Harbor.
"Are you worried about discrimination?" I asked him.
"No, I'm worried about the failure to discriminate," he told me. "I am worried about the failure to discriminate between the people who actually killed Americans and anyone, American or otherwise, who happens to wear a turban." This workshop is his doing, and he teaches most of it, though he's brought in a few former students and other allies who are Muslim, as guest speakers. He has public talks lined up at all the libraries within driving distance. I didn't even know he could drive....He's bound and determined not to let history repeat itself.
"Our culture has a history of responding to fear by exacerbating the perceived difference between self and Other," he said, at the first class meeting of the workshop. "Which is curious, because of course they are never so different from us as they seem, and are usually busy othering us for exactly the same reason. Compassion and empathy are lost. As an historian, as a Buddhist, and as a man who has been othered, I do not want to see this country become bereft of compassion again."
I am not aware of anyone else--anyone outside the school--responding to the crisis by holding an Islamic studies class. But then, I'm not aware of anyone outside the school who has even begun to return to ordinary daily life, as we have. The only thing out there that has gone back to normal yet is that planes are flying again.
During the three days that they were not, the sky was clear--the same extraordinary blue that it was on Tuesday. I remember seeing Kit, on her way into lunch on Wednesday or Thursday, look up, fling out her arms, and twirl around, smiling. When she was done twirling, there I was. Our eyes met.
"It's so beautiful," she said. "It's too bad it takes something like this for us to get our sky back."