On this day ten years ago I was trying to get to class when the sky started falling. Class was let out early, and I called my fiancé, who was staying with her parents until our wedding day on September 21st. School was let out and I went up from Provo to Salt Lake City to be with the person I wanted to spend my entire life with, in case that life were somehow to be cut short, even in our remote area. The sky in SLC was clear and warm, and it was easy to forget that we were being attacked on our own soil by people desiring nothing but destruction. It would have been easy to forget, but you were there. You know there was nothing else on your mind that day either.
My story doesn’t end with loved ones getting killed in those planes or buildings, I don’t know that hurt, and there’s no way I could understand it, nor can I understand how those who carry that burden deal with it. Nor do I understand the kind of feelings or thoughts that would drive someone to that kind of action. But here’s something else:
May 1st, 2001: I was flying west from Louisville Kentucky to Salt Lake City Utah, getting ready to attend BYU. Catching my connecting flight from Cleveland I was seated next to a girl about my age (Twenty-three at the time) or perhaps a bit younger. She was wearing blue jeans, a shirt of some kind (I’m terrible at colors and fabrics and all that) and a hijab (I think, I had to look that up on Wikipedia just now). We exchanged greetings before take off and readied all our personal stuff…the usual boring stuff.
After the plane was in the air I asked where she was headed, a question that always seems really stupid when your sitting next to each other in an airplane. But she was continuing on to California. She asked me the same question and I said I was staying in Utah. The inevitable follow up was “Are you a Mormon?” I said yes, I was and she said “Oh. I guess we’re like, cousins, or something then.”
This next paragraph took about half a second to go through my head. I considered what I knew of Islam. I knew that the Prophet Muhammad lived in the 1400’s or thereabouts, that they were monotheists, believed the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the Quran, which according to their faith is the pure word of God revealed to His Prophet, whereas I had just spent two years teaching similar things about the Book of Mormon. They practiced fasting, alms-giving, and daily prayer, all things that my own faith taught as well. While I wouldn’t have ever stated that Mormonism and Islam were “cousins” the way she did, I couldn’t deny the parallels.
Like I said, I went through all that in about half a second. “sure,” I said, and we talked about our respective religions a little bit. Not a whole lot, and I definitely don’t remember every word we said now, but it was all friendly and respectful.
The flight was booked full, and we were flying economy class. We had picked up or food from a cooler on the way onto the plane, and the two of us ate ours at the same time. Inspecting the contents, she looked a meat snack, and said, “Yeah, pork. I can’t eat this. Do you want it?” I said sure, then pulled the soda out of my bag. “Hmm. Caffeine. I can’t drink this. Do you want it?” she took my cola, I took her snack and we both laughed a little bit. We weren’t the same, but it was nice for both of us to be able to just be who we were without worrying that the other one would mock us for it.
Anyway, a few months later, as we watched in terror and fear, I thought back to that girl on the plane, who, I was sure, had nothing to do with the insanity in the sky and was, I was certain, as horrified and disgusted as I was. I hoped that she had people to turn to during the coming months, as she would, through no fault of her own, be under suspicion. I hoped the people around her would be kind and treat her well during a time that was probably more hurt-filled and confusing for her as it was for me.
I hope the last ten years have been a time of healing for all of us. I hope that those who lost someone in the attacks have found some answers and hope and a way to go on. I hope that those who had to watch while their faith was held up as a reason to commit atrocities have found understanding and support in the people around them. I hope all of us have found a desire to move forward together.