Eleven years ago today, I had little notion that my life would be changed forever.
At the time, we lived and worked in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since we lived in a “bedroom community” of the City by the Bay, we had to get up and get ready to leave our home at an unearthly hour to make it into work at a “regular” time (both my husband and I worked in/near downtown San Francisco).
Image: joewcampbell via Flickr, CC 2.0
I remember, I was dressed and ready before my husband was, and watching the morning news on TV in our family room downstairs. They were reporting the weirdest thing: could a ‘plane actually have flown into the World Trade Center?
Apparently it had. And it was a horrid, tragic sight.
But then, not that long after, there was another, even more horrid and tragic sight… another ‘plane had hit the Center.
One airplane could be written off as pilot error, but two? Two had to be a terrorist attack.
I don’t need to rehash what happened on that day, 11 years ago; we all lived through it.
Many died through it.
On September 12, I remember we both went into work (we had actually started driving in the previous day, until we each spoke with our respective bosses who, dazed and confused, decided it would be best for all to stay home).
It was a surreal day, people numbed by the manifestation of extreme hatred they had witnessed on live television, many distraught over the fate of loved ones they had not been able to reach, who could have been in the wake of the attacks.
Somehow we made it through the day. As we were wont to do, my husband (a very white American of Scotch-Irish descent) and I met up at a San Francisco BART station and took the commuter train back to our suburb, where we piled into our (then one) car, and drove home.
Image: Chris Piascik via Flickr, CC 2.0
As we got out of our car, a blue pickup truck drove by. As I said before, we lived in a bedroom community of San Francisco, and by all accounts, our neighborhood was a “nice” one, and we had the yard and neighbors to prove it.
Not the driver, but the passenger in the truck threw his arm out of the window and yelled, as they drove by, “Go home! We don’t want your kind here!”
I remember, in the weeks and months that followed, how hesitant I was to make eye contact with any “Americans” I didn’t know.
After all, weren’t they all thinking that people like me… with brown skin, and long black hair, and who spoke differently… were responsible for the heinous acts that shook not just the United States, but the world?
I used to wear a long black overcoat, complete with hood, to protect me from San Francisco’s recalcitrant weather. If buttoned all the way through, it looked almost like a burkha, though it was, in fact, an extremely Western product and, I remember, the first coat I ever purchased in the U.S.
Fearing for my safety, my husband forbad the use of that coat.
I couldn’t blame him.
There were reports of white Americans being attacked because they were seen with people of “dubious” origin.
Perhaps people with long black hair, and with brown skins. People like me.
Reports of such attacks even in San Francisco, the bastion of liberalism in the United States.
I became a U.S. citizen on March 19, 2008; many years after the terror attacks that would shape a generation.
But it was on Sept. 11, 2001, that I knew I would change my nationality from Indian – of which heritage I remain immensely proud – to American.
Up until then, I was perfectly happy being a permanent resident. I kept hoping that my home country would allow dual citizenship, as do several other countries around the world, at which point I could be a citizen of both India and the United States.
But 9/11 changed all that.
After the terror attacks, Sept. 11 was no long simply another day, or my godfather’s birthday (poor guy!).
It was the day America – my adopted home, the land of milk and honey (yes, even now) – was attacked as never before.
It was the day terrorism – which we have dealt with for a long time preceding in countries like India – bared its teeth to the Western world as never before.
It was the day many of us immigrants – who had left all we held dear behind to start new lives on a far and strange continent – swore allegiance, implicitly or explicitly, to a flag composed of 13 stripes and 50 stars that, truth be told, held little-to-no historical significance for us.
But we did it because America gave us, in some way, shape or form, a new lease of life.
And when America was attacked, we were attacked.
I imagine everyone who is reading this had their life changed in some way, shape or form by what transpired in New York, and New York, and Arlington, Va., and Shanksville, Pa., 11 years ago.
Please know that like you, the rest of us will never forget.
@leaderswest Thanks so much for sharing.
Shonali, I was also living in SF at the time. My family is of 100% Lebanese origin, but I never faced any of the horrible behavior you did. Maybe because we’re Catholics and pretty completely Americanized. I wish I could have been here at your naturalization ceremony. (I’ve never been to one, but they bring tears to my eyes every time I see on on the news!) So let me say here and now I feel honored that decided to join this crazy tribe of ours. And as someone whose parents were born to parents who spoke no English at first, I know first-hand that “your kind” is one of the best things this country has going.
Typing on iPad, hence typos :)
@barrettrossie LOL, no worries. I’m just glad Livefyre is continuing to work on the iPad! :)
@barrettrossie Just imagine… we could have passed each other on the street & not known! What a wonderful thing social media is, no? And what a sweet thing to say, thank you!
I’m very glad you didn’t have to face anything like that. Like I said to @Mark_Harai after hearing what his parents went through after WWII, I had it easy. True, I was jostled a couple of times on BART – and believe me, I know the difference between rush hour type of jostling and the other kind! – and this happened, outside my own house. But still, I wasn’t overtly attacked, and my husband was safe, thank goodness. But, at the same time, it did hurt.
However, I’ve never regretted my decision to become a US citizen. This is a great country. It’s a very young country, and it’s going through some tough times, but its people are truly remarkable. And I’m proud to be a part of it. In fact, I’m kinda lucky, because I get to represent both the US *and* India. That’s pretty cool!
@iggypintado @sandrasays @craigmcbreen @profkrg @jasonkonopinski @soulati @brennermichael Thank you for the shares!
@shonali You’re welcome!
It hurts my heart anyone would say/do that to you, Shonali. I think yesterday (and today’s news about the US ambassador to Libya being murdered) is a very good reminder that we are one country. We’re too polarized right now. Our President is being attacked for the color of his skin, the way he was raised, and even his religion. People have gone back to those racist remarks that you felt after 9/11. I hope this serves as a good reminder that we are all in this together.
@ginidietrich Thank you, my dear!
We are very polarized right now… but I wonder, were we any less polarized 150 years ago? I was thinking about that after we visited Gettysburg not that long ago. I mean – it was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, *the* bloodiest, if I’m not mistaken. I kept thinking of how much the country was polarized then… and if one is able to distance one’s self a bit, it’s rather fascinating to watch the evolution of this country.
I also wonder if the racism has been there all along… and it’s just come more strongly to the forefront, after the previous election. I do think some people go too far in attacking the President; one may or may not agree with his politics and policies, but he IS the president. The office calls for respect.
@suehorner Thank you so much.
The day we lost whatever innocence we had left; it was very emotional and very easy to want to ‘hate’ someone. I’m sorry you had to endure ignorance primarily due to the color of your skin.
But I’m glad you are here as America is made up from immigrants of many nationalities and religions; it truly is still the land of milk and honey.
@bdorman264 I’m glad I’m here too. Else I would never have met you, @Adam | Customer Experience , ginidietrich , jillfoster , lisagerber , @rachaelseda , @tinu … oh, SO many people, I’m going to stop naming them else I will get into trouble!
@Shonali Thank you for this. I want to punch that guy in the face who said that. Yet I get even thinking that adds to the violence which the world does not need. All to say, I am grateful you are here.
@Jillfoster I think that punch in the face could be attributed to “good triumphing over ignorance.” :p xoxox
@adamtoporek Thank you so much for sharing, and for your comment too!
@shonali My pleasure Shonali! It was a different and important perspective. Besides, I rememb from Orlando, u just have great stories… :)
@adamtoporek How nice of you to say! I think most people have great stories, they usually just don’t know it/tell them. How are you?
@shonali Yeah, u have to meet me IRL to hear my non custserv stories. :) All is well here! Big changes but good. U settled in w/ new life?
@adamtoporek I do! When will I see you? Can we at least Skype?
@shonali Would love to! I’ll email/DM you, set something up for next week if that works on your end.
@adamtoporek Next week is HORRID. But email/DM/FB & we’ll figure it out, I’m looking forward to it!
@shonali That’s this week for me… I’ll reach out and we’ll make it happen. Looking forward to it! TC
@adamtoporek You too!
That was a really touching personal account Shonali. We all remember the horrible tragedy of that day but what is less remembered are the victims of the fear and uncertainty that followed the attacks. Thank you for reminding us of that.
@Adam | Customer Experience Thank you so much for stopping by, Adam! It’s still a relatively new tragedy for this country (and for the world) but hopefully there will be more tolerance as the years go by.
@shonali Excellent post Shonali. Every 9/11, a wide variety of authors offer their opinion on 9/11… and I always feel a little outside the circle. I wasn’t in NYC, or DC. I do remember a streak of anti-semitism from conspiracy theorists following the attacks, but I only see them on the internet. I feel for the country as a whole, but the patriostism is more general than personal. And I have VERY strong political opinions, but it’s easy to get lost in that shuffle, and it feels more approporiate to stay silent then yell like a pundit.
But one of the reasons I really like your post is that it makes me think. Specifically, it makes me think, “I wonder how many minorities who aren’t even close in heritage to anyone who has ever been an Al Queda leader (minus the American killed by drone, of course) have been discriminated against or placed in a world of fear over literally nothing… and how many are willin got TALK about it…”
@Daniel J. Cohen Thank you, Dan. Yea, that’s the thing… so often we are the subject of discrimination, but we don’t do anything… and honestly, it’s tough. For example, when that guy shook his fist at me and yelled at me – outside my own house – it took me a few minutes to even process what he’d said. And then I simply froze in disbelief, that anyone could/would do that.
But in the days that followed, you heard so many stories of Sikhs being harassed (I think at least one gas station owner was killed) and the like. It was very, very sad.
@3hatscomm Thank you so much, Davina.
@shonali YW.. enjoyed that, how differently things are in someone else’s shoes.
@3hatscomm They sure are. Thank you again! And how are you? I know, I’m way out of the loop…
@shonali I’m out of the loop too – little busy, seems I’ve always got errands, appointments.. and vacay next month. :)
@3HatsComm That’s something to look forward to! Where are you headed?
@shonali Florida, cruise in Bahamas w/ BFF – perfect for a little escape. :)
@mark2law Thank you so much.
@mark_harai @sharelomer @jasonkonopinski @socialirony @kirkhazlett @annbarks So kind of you to share, thank you.
@shonali I’m so sorry you had to endure that. My parents were sent to a camp in WW11, lost home/biz/everything because they were Japanese.
@mark_harai Wow. Back in SF the Presidio was a client at one point & that’s when I learned of what happened to so many Japanese.
@mark_harai I’m so sorry your parents had to go through that. What I dealt with was so much less.
@shonali No, it’s all wrong.. I can understand the situation for mom and dad; but there is no excuse for the crap you dealt with…
@shonali That kind of behavior is un-American.
@mark_harai I have such a long answer for you I can’t spread it over tweets, LOL.
@shonali Oh dang; penny for your thoughts : )
@mark_harai Haha! I’ll collect over Skype soon, how about that? :)
Very touching account. It’s just interesting @shonali and .. I can’t think the right words, how this event has impacted so many different lives in such wildly different ways. And yet.. it’s stories like this that show how – at the same time – we’re all connected, united, alike in so many ways. Thanks for sharing.
@3HatsComm It really did. Thank you, Davina!
If you’d care to share your memories, I’d love to know. No pressure. Seriously.
@Shonali I was just home working, watching news .. stunned, calling family in shock for comfort. I was traveling not long after and you could see lighter crowds, people on edge – but together. I remember when we got back to the routines – work, sports, vacations – that was the thing, not letting such a tragedy take over. And of course – we all know people who know people, have some in DC and NYC; people in the military who really felt this. So, so many changes.
[…] How 9/11 Changed My Life Forever (waxingunlyrical.com) […]
Interesting perspective @shonali and thank you for sharing. Us smug americans never had to deal with terrorism before even though it was is so many other countries like India. And before 9/11 we really didn’t care about terrorism elsewhere. We allowed money to flow to terrorist groups from the US and looked the other way even when that money went to some of our best friends countries (Boston was a huge supporter of the IRA strife).
And then 9/11 happens and yes we got xenophobic, paranoic and if you ask me based on watching Twitter today Bin Laden won. I see so many remember 9/11 tweets and no one remembers the 170,000 murdered in the US by Americans (mostly christian americans). And guess what we still don’t care about terrorism elsehwere. You don’t see Remember Mumbai tweets or anything like that.
I can’t decide if we are one messed up nation or is it just one messed up world?
Either way there are lots of people world wide who are American in the ‘good way’ which is eace loving good citizens who care about freedom equality and love for fellow people..oh and are good cooks. See you were always one 8)
@HowieG It’s a messed up world. And thank you for the kind comment!
It’s true, we’ve dealt with terrorism in places like India way before the US had to deal with it on this kind of scale. I mean, you had the Oklahoma City bomber, etc., but never anything like this. And the US is such a large country and has, for so long, been fairly insulated – basically doing what it wants – that so many people who’d never even considered such a thing possible realized it could happen… even here.
But it was also a very sad moment and time for most people around the world. Yes, we’ve been experiencing US-driven “cultural Colonialism” in India & the East (probably most countries, actually), for a while, and while there are many detractors (I helped develop an original play around it), the US was the country everyone looked up to, wanted to go to… like the cool big brother quarterback who sometimes pisses you off, but you love anyway. And I don’t think that feeling has been completely lost, even though so much has happened since.
There are three stories that always come to mind for me.
I was supposed to be in Manhattan for a trade show at the Javits center. It was a few days before 9-11 and there was some question about whether I would stay a day or two later to meet with clients.
My best friend was doing some work at Cantor Fitzgerald. We were going to get drinks at Windows of the World. As things worked out my trip was cancelled so I stayed in LA. The morning of the attacks I didn’t know where he was and whether he had come back to LA or was still working there.
I found out hours into the day that he had come back to LA, two days earlier, but it was a wild few hours before.
That day I remember watching the news while my 10 month old son played with blocks and knocked them down.
I flew into the city several months later to visit those clients I hadn’t made it out to see. I won’t ever forget much of what I saw and how many missing persons fliers were posted all over. It was clear that life had changed for all of us but not clear exactly how that would manifest.
@thejoshuawilner I grew up on Long Island and came back that december to start a new job. And I remember crying on the LIR not seeing the towers as the train neared Manhattan. I remember crying in Penn station seeing all the missing person wall of photos. Then I remember going to ground zero and seeing it one big tourist trap of tee shirts and buttons and hats. Then I remember 6 people were killed just before christmas by a van that lost control in front of Macys in midtown. And 2 days later it was out of the news. No one cared. Even though the 6 deaths were just as tragic as 9/11. And then the newsaper filled with survivor families screaming ‘where is my million dollars?’ and I thought those 6 dead people from Macys get nothing. And that was when I was pretty much over 9/11. And to show even how bad we are…the fact first responders were denied healthcare money for 10 years (still waiting for it) and the fact that in an audit 90% of the claims to the Government to replace A/C units in NYC filled with Twin Towers chemicals turned out to be fraudulent and I thought ‘Maybe we deserved 9/11’ sigh.
@HowieG No, we never deserved it. No one does. It wasn’t a group “noble rebels” that did this in hopes for freedom. There is no way to spin the act of murderers and I am not saying you are suggesting that.
This wasn’t my first experience with terrorism nor my last. It won’t be for many of us and that is sad but I won’t write about that here.
One of my best friends died on August 25, 1999. We were 29 and it was brain cancer that took him. I remember driving that night and being furious because people were laughing and the television was filled with stupid shows that ignored the tragedy of his death.
But that is how it is. Life goes on. Some people cope by ignoring and forgetting, some by doing other things.
I remember watching a woman trip and fall at 42nd and Lex and seeing people stop to help her up. Maybe that happened before 9-11 but it struck me because it was clear to me that many had woken up from their slumber to do more.
It is easy find lots of examples of the bad stuff people do but it is important to look for the good too, it is there.
@thejoshuawilner Thank you so much for sharing your memories. I hadn’t even been to NYC at the time, so I never saw the Twin Towers before they were destroyed. I wish I had. When I worked in NYC, I remember passing by the site and got a glimpse of the area (construction wasn’t very far along then) – and I was absolutely shocked at how HUGE the area was/is. It was only a couple of years ago that, on a trip to NYC along with my husband, we went by the WTC site and memorial. I haven’t been there in a while, but even so, it was overwhelming.
@HowieG I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts & perspective, though like Jack, I’ll say that we didn’t deserve it. And I don’t think you really believe that. You are way too much of a good person to think that! I do get the frustration and disillusionment, though; but don’t we all have to deal with that?
Part of the tuning out of tragedies is, I think, a coping mechanism (again, echoing Jack). I mean, just think of all the crap that happens, every minute of every day. If I really let myself react to it, I’d go insane.
You truly have captured the meaning of that moment, @shonali . So much changed on that day…as it did on 12-07-41, 11-22-63, 04-04-68, and countless others, sadly. My only heartfelt hope is that we have learned to love and appreciate our friends, family and many, many others who impact our lives for what they have GIVEN to us in our lifetimes. And that we learn to judge others not by their outward appearance but by their inward beauty and kindness.
@KirkHazlett If anyone manifests that kind of patience and tolerance, it’s you, Kirk; and I don’t say that lightly. I’ve met so many people in my life, and hopefully will meet a lot more, but you really do that. @martinwaxman does as well. So does @hackmanj . Most of us (myself included, I think) are basically nice, but we are probably quicker to judge and express that judgement. I’m so grateful to know you.
@Shonali @martinwaxman @hackmanj Thank you, Shonali. My day just brightened immeasurably. :-)
@Shonali @KirkHazlett @martinwaxman thank you Shonali, I was following this yesterday and to the degree that I could, letting things sink in. Thank you for your compliment, I appreciate it. I have been so focused on work lately, your post was a reminder to me that I have a lot more to consider and reflect on. I am truly grateful for our friendship.
@hackmanj Back at you!
That’s a moving post, Shonali. I think we all remember exactly where we were when 911 happened, the shock of it, the helplessness, irrational anger and hate (that you describe so well), the sadness and fear. I like to divide the world up pre-911 and post-911 – it changed so many things. Thanks for sharing this.
@martinwaxman Thank you, Martin. Yes, it is indeed one of those rare moments in your life, where you tend to remember much more detail than you otherwise might. I remember what I was wearing, for example; black trousers and a maroon turtleneck sweater (don’t laugh!). I remember the exact spot we’d reached while driving to the BART station when one of my co-workers called me, crying, because she didn’t want to go into work (“They’re saying San Francisco will be next”) but we hadn’t gotten word from our bosses as to what to do. I remember actually using the F word to my mom on the phone (before we went in to work)… for the first time ever, ‘cos I never curse in front of my parents.
Where were you?
@Shonali I was in a 16 story building in midtown Toronto. I actually felt somewhat safe there, because – and I realize how irrational this sounds – it seemed like such an insignificant office building that I didn’t think anyone would bother with it at all. One of my colleague’s husbands worked in NYC and she was having trouble reaching him – she did later that morning. I remember the absolute shock of seeing the second plane live as it crashed into the tower and wondering what’s going to happen. Then, of course I just wanted to go home, but I did stay for the rest of the morning. I don’t think I took the subway though…
@martinwaxman Total shock. I remember that too. I felt complete and utter disbelief… I mean, HOW could something like that happen?!
@rachaelseda @mattlacasse @leaderswest @webdotcom @kunals89 Thanks so much for the share.
@shonali You bet. Fantastic piece. cc @rachaelseda @leaderswest @webdotcom @kunals89
@mattlacasse @shonali Agreed! cc: @leaderswest @webdotcom @kunals89
@kmueller62 @shonali Thx for the RT Ken. I wanted to comment, but words failed. Shonali, that was brilliantly, painfully beautiful
@kdillabough How kind of you to say, Kaarina, thank you and @kmueller62 too!