Days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I was in a funky little shop, the kind of place that splashes words of whimsy and inspiration across magnets, overstuffed pillows, pads of paper, and weathered planks of wood. There were quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Proust and pithy contemporary pronouncements like, “Due to the Current Economic Crisis the Light at the End of the Tunnel Has Been Turned Off.”
Three women stood behind me, reading their favorite words aloud to each other, laughing lightheartedly. Then one of the women read, “Everything happens for a reason.” The other two women sighed in agreement, to which the reader responded, “I used to believe that. Until 9/11.”
I turned around and saw the reader’s solemn face and was painfully reminded of that tragic September day in 2001. I will never forget it. Car windows down, I was enjoying the crisp, clear morning air before heading to a dentist’s appointment. The radio was on NPR. A news report said a small plane had crashed into a building in New York City. By the time my appointment was over, people were jumping from the blazing Twin Towers.
To say this horror has changed us is an understatement. Fear and suspicion are now very real parts of the American experience and will be for a long time to come. I understand that and know we need to protect ourselves from future terrorist attacks.
But what I find myself longing for is a better way for all Americans and people around the world to honor the victims of this tragedy. An inclusive and enduring way that supports my belief that there are more tolerant people in the world than the extremists at home and abroad would have us believe.
A way that redefines 9/11.
Were it up to me, 9/11 would become a day to work towards world tolerance. I would invite one adult and one child from every country in the world to come to New York City and gather at Ground Zero. After the traditional reading of names, tolling of bells, and moments of silence, each child would step up to the podium and offer, in their native language, simple words like, “I come to you from my home in Syria to stand beside you in peace and tolerance on your national day of mourning.”
No politics, no religion, just words of understanding and hope from small emissaries across the globe. Emissaries who will one day inherit this fractured world.
I am aware not everyone would embrace this plan. Many countries would decline our invitation. Others would seek ways to thwart its message.
That is to be expected.
But this day wouldn’t be for them. It would be for the majority of people who would like to turn the tragedy of 9/11 into something very different. Something the terrorists never envisioned when they flew those planes into the Twin Towers, Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania. Something that would prove the woman in the shop wrong. . .