On September 11, 2001, the world stopped. It stopped for a long time, and when it started its rotation again, haltingly, bit by bit, we were all different.
I was different.
I loved my country more.
I loved my countrymen more.
I shed more tears more easily.
I recognized the fragility of each day.
I loved more deeply.
After spending that morning watching the horrific images again and again and again, I left my sweet and safe and protected little home to pick up Josh from kindergarten. My neighbor Sarka came out at the same time and we hugged each other tightly and wept together.
Sarka and her lovely family had moved in across the street earlier that year. We had greeted them with Otter Pops and excitement to welcome more children onto the street. We became fast friends, and I was fascinated by the stories she told. She and her husband were both born and raised in Afghanistan, both forced out of Afghanistan for political reasons. Sarka's story is like an Afghan Sound of Music. She and her family, both immediate and extended, left their home with dishes on the table and walked to Pakistan to escape. They were in danger because of her father's role in government. Her husband left because as a young man, he worked on an underground radio station and held "radical" views, views that were "dangerous".
My oldest and her youngest would begin kindergarten together in the fall. Our children loved to play together. Josh adored Sarka's wonderful cooking. Sarka helped watch the kids on some of my teaching days. We attended Ramadan celebrations. They gave us Christmas cards. Sarka spread love. And flatbread. Oh, Sarka's flatbread. Once she realized how much I adored it, there were never many days between gifts of that manna.
On that terrible morning, neither of us realized that Afghanistan would become the focus of the nation's rage, that troops would invade so quickly, that their relatives would once again be living in a war zone. All we knew was that evil had been done, and we mourned together.
Loving Sarka made it so easy to let go of any prejudice I might have had in those days after 9-11. When I would read stories of Muslim men being detained at airports, or being ripped from their families and taken to prison for questioning, I would think of Sarka, her husband and son. Our views on life, our love of God, our desire to raise good and kind families in a holy way...all the same. There was no hatred in that home. There was no evil in that home. When I would overhear negative conversations about the "dangerous religion" of Islam, I had plenty to say. I still have plenty to say.
When I remember that tragic day, I remember it with so much sadness, but the sadness is tempered with gratitude. I am grateful for the lessons I learned from my dear neighbor and friend. I believe that love builds bridges over deep chasms, that loving those around us in the small daily ways of bread and Otter Pops teaches us tolerance and respect and understanding. I hope it's a lesson that I never forget and that my children will always have wrapped around them like Sarka's embrace.