Sunday, March 24, 2019
Sunday Afternoon Tea - How smiles helped heal my 9/11 trauma
I don't know exactly why the Christchurch shootings affected me as they did. As one person there said to a reporter, "You people in America are used to mass shootings". Unfortunately, he may be correct. I have seen it on the news so many times that, unless something happens in my town, I tend to put it out of my mind after a week or so.
Perhaps it was because New Zealand doesn't experience these kinds of events and I think if it can happen there, it can happen... here. In a place I always assumed is free from mass shootings.
Now, this will sound odd but I hope you stick with me to hear all of the story. If taken out of context, you would think me against Muslims and that is not at all true. I was greatly relieved that I could feel such grief but there is a story behind it.
We lived in the Detroit Metro area on 9/11, just off of 12 Mile Road in the suburb of Warren. The City of Detroit proper begins at 8 Mile Road, made popular to those outside of Detroit by the movie starring Eminem by the same name. That week was life changing to most Americans. Innocence was lost. America had not been attacked like that except for Hawaii and that was far out in the ocean.
That morning, my husband left early for the airport as he did most weeks. Christopher and I always walked to our favorite diner after he left, one of our traditions for when "Dad travels". I'm not sure why but in the Detroit area, most restaurants have TVs. I was used to only sports bars having TVs at home.
I think it was Good Morning America that was on as we ate our breakfast and they were showing that a plane had flow into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. At that time, they considered it an accident. Then... as we watched... a second plane flew into the other tower. This was not an accident. America was under attack.
We had finished our breakfast so I quickly paid and we walked home. I turned the TV on as soon as we walked through the door and like most homes, it stayed on all day, every day, for a long period of time.
There were two events happening in addition to what we saw on TV that stayed with me for years. First, we didn't know where my husband was until late that night. If he had flown according to his original tickets, he could have been over Pennsylvania when that plane crashed.
We found out later that he was still in the air between Detroit and Chicago when the first tower was hit and didn't call because he was trying to rent a car to get back home. He ended up having to take a taxi to a town in Northern Indiana where a rental car was available. He made it home two days after the first plane hit.
The other event that most people don't realize is that Detroit was put on high alert as a possible target due to the factories making military equipment and vehicles. We also were only a couple miles as the crow flies from the U. S./Canadian border crossing. For what seemed like a very long time, one could hear the sounds of helicopters overhead continuously.
Another event in Detroit most people outside of the area may not remember is that the suburb of Dearborn has the largest Muslim population outside of the Middle East. There were images on the local news of Muslims in the street... in a suburb not that far from us... celebrating the attack.
All of that combined brought about a form of PTSD in a lot of us after that time. Mentally, I knew the Muslims I had met at home... in the University town... had been peaceful and friendly. Mentally I knew that it was a small fraction of people who were celebrating in Dearborn. But the fear I felt was overwhelming. For a very long time.
I recall walking into a kitchen supply store to shop for a needed portable "island" for our kitchen and being met by a young woman who, by her dress, I knew was Muslim. I almost wanted to run out of the store. Thankfully, I didn't but it was hard. She was very nice but all I could think of was what we had so recently been through. The fear was still fresh in my head and my heart.
How did I get over it? It happened when we moved back home a few years later and I once again spent a lot of time on campus. It was the lovely Muslim women I met. Now, the men rarely give American women any consideration. They tend to walk by as if we are invisible. I understand, it is a cultural thing. However, many of the women... especially if they are alone or with their children... will give a shy smile.
I have remembered for a long time the story of a famous leader of another country who disliked America and the reason why. It was because as a foreign student in an American University, he had not been invited into any American home. I loved having my kid's foreign born friends into our home when possible.
Of course, I didn't know any of these women well enough to invite them even to meet for coffee. Their culture would not have allowed it. But what I could do was to smile and say hello when I saw one of them in the grocery store (as happened quite often), on the streets of campus, in the bookstore where I worked part time, etc.
So when I heard about the shooting at the Mosque, I didn't think about 9/11. God had healed my heart of that trauma. Instead, I thought of the young women... the young mothers... I have exchanged smiles with for so many years. Women I have prayed for at each opportunity, just within my own mind and spirit but God knows them by name.
One thing you learn when involved in any campus ministry is how we think of churches sending missionaries out to the various lands but on a large college campus, we have many people from other countries coming to us. How many of them did God lead here to meet Him? Especially people in whose countries that do not allow the Bible and sharing Christ.
If there is one thing that our God does not allow in His people, it is a hatred of others just because they are different than us. We cannot reach another with the message of Christ's redemption if we have anything against another.
We are definitely to act with wisdom and do that which is necessary to protect our land. Yes, there are people in this world of various political agendas that want to destroy my country and most likely your country if you live elsewhere. It has been that way throughout history, since the enemy of our souls asked that question in the Garden, "Did God really say...?". Since then, he has planted seeds of hatred in some and distrust in all of us. However...
God does not ever want us to look at a people group... He wants us to see the person.
Sometimes all we can give a person is a smile and perhaps because we did, if enough of us were kind, they will return to their own country and see us differently than the descriptions they were told by their governments.
When I think of other countries these days, I think of the students from the countries that I came to know personally. Especially those who were in my home. Even those that I only knew for a few seconds in passing, exchanging smiles at the produce aisle. God could use smiles to heal both our hearts. I no longer felt that urge to run away.
We live in an age where not only nations are divided but these divisions can be felt within families. The next time we think of "them" vs. "us", we must see the individual person instead of the people groups. If I start to go a little nuts from Socialist-promoting people in Congress, I think of my good friend who campaigned for Bernie. She cooks me soup and makes me smile.
Image: Photo of firefighter Michael Saber on 9/11 by Yoni Brook, The Washington Post