It’s been ten years now. In some ways, it feels like it’s been decades since that horrible day. In many ways though, it feels like it was just the other day. One thing is for sure- life changed forever on 9-11-2001.
I feel it’s frivolous to focus on how my life has changed or the impact of the events of that day on me personally. With so many lives lost and so many others touched so tragically and drastically, what does it matter if my life also changed? Of course, the logical side of me knows that effects of 9-11 on my life are important personally, as the events of that day have shaped me, my outlook, my character and my professional life. Those like me who
were fortunate to be personally unharmed have still been touched, altered and forever morphed nonetheless.
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I woke up to a bright sunny California day. My boyfriend, who’s now my husband, was already in the shower. This was big day for him. It was going to be his first day at a new job- his first as a newly minted lawyer. In the living room, my mother laid sleeping on the futon. She had just arrived from Texas for a visit.
Still half-asleep, I turned the TV on to catch the morning’s news. It was 7:30 am, Pacific Standard Time. At first, though I heard the words spoken, I couldn’t understand their meanings. As I strained to focus my sleepy eyes on an unfathomable image on the screen, I sat up and tried to concentrate. I thought I was watching footage from a big Hollywood disaster flick. My brain could not accept that what I was seeing was real life. Just then, the footage of the second plane crashing into the second tower was shown. With a jolt, I
jumped out of bed, in shear panic. Oh, my god, I thought, this is real!
Instinct took over. I ran into the steamed up bathroom but then froze, unable to form sentences. My husband’s entire family lives in New York and his sister worked in the City at the time. I stood there, petrified of the words I needed to use to tell him what was happening. I strained for clarity. I searched my brain for a way to talk. I tried to remember whether I knew where his sister worked and how close she would be to the World Trade
Center, but nothing came to me. I had no clue what to say or do. So, I just opened my mouth and allowed the words out slowly and cautiously. In as calm a voice I could muster, I asked where Stacy’s office was located and whether she was close to the Twin Towers. He was dismissive. Who could blame him? He was nervous and excited about his first day of work as an attorney. That’s when I gently began to tell him what had happened. I can’t recall what words I used. It still feels so foreign to have stood there and described what I had just seen on TV.
It took some time to get through to his family, but we eventually heard from everyone and were relieved to know that they were all safe. But Scott, who used to be a volunteer fire fighter in Long Island, New York, was devastated to learn that some of the people he knew were among the first responders who had bravely rushed in to help survivors and who has
tragically lost their own lives.
I sat glued to the TV for most of that day and for days to come. I just couldn’t move, think or do much of anything other than watch in horror and ask why. After hours of simply watching the horrific images of the fires, the pandemonium, the fear stricken faces, the jumpers and those seemingly indestructible buildings crumbling like sand castles, my mom finally convinced me to get up and leave the apartment. I think she was very worried
because I just sat there sobbing and asking why. She thought I was having a nervous breakdown. Maybe I was.
We went to LA’s historic Farmer’s Market, just a few blocks from the apartment. It had been my safe haven ever since my move to LA a year-and-half before this time. Whenever the worries of life got me down, whenever the weight and the uncertainty of the future got to be too much, I’d go to the Farmer’s Market on Third and Fairfax and instantly feel more at peace and optimistic. But on 9-11, even the Farmer’s Market didn’t feel safe to me. The place was a ghost town. The few people who were around were mostly the colorful Market
regulars, whom I’d come to love watching. On that day, no one smiled or boisterously carried on happy conversations. Instead, everyone cautiously looked at others around them. We all felt like the occupants of a lifeboat in the middle a dark stormy sea. People would spontaneously hold hands and share their grief, disbelief, anger and confusion. And if you know anything about LA, you know that people in LA usually do not chat up with people they don’t know. But this was not any usual or ordinary day. I remember telling my mom not to talk to me in Persian in public on that day. In addition to feeling such grief and loss, I actually felt a bit threatened to let on that we were Middle Eastern. That was the very first little shift in my life on 9-11.
I told Mom that I needed to go to my favorite church to light a candle and mourn the dead. St. Augustine, in Culver City, had become the place I went to when I felt fear or sadness or when I just needed clarity. I had found it during my bar study days when I made daily pilgrimages to the headquarters of Barbri, a bar prep course I was taking in the winter of 2001. I went to St. Augustine when I missed my dad so much I thought I’d die. I went to St. Augustine on the eve of the second time I took the bar exam, in tears, praying to pass this time around. I also went to St. Augustine just before taking the bar for the third time, the results of which came out two months after 9-11. On that day, I walked into St. Augustine, lit a candle, knelt down and dissolved into tears. I was so overwhelmed by grief and bewilderment. I asked for answers. None came. I asked for peace, but I felt none. Still, it was a safe place to honor the dead and to mourn the loss of our collective naïveté.
I became a lawyer on November 16, 2001. That’s not the whole story. I became an immigration lawyer in the post 9-11 world. And while what I have experienced does not compare to the immense and senseless loss of others because of the events of that that day, I can still tell you that I live my losses everyday- as a human being, as an American, as person of Middle Eastern origins and as an immigration lawyer.
I lost my faith in fairness on 9-11. I lost my faith in the best in humanity on 9-11. I lost my sense of security on 9-11. I lost the notion of equality for all on 9-11. I also lost the opportunity to know how it was to practice law in a country driven solely by justice, but gained theopportunity to see firsthand how our society’s lofty ideals can be tossed aside in fear and in the name of patriotism. I gained political clarity post 9-11. And I found out how scarred I truly was as a person touched by violence, extremism and fundamentalism from an early age.
I am a different person because of 9-11. My life is different because of it. I have been treated differently based of my place of birth in the name of 9-11. I’ve become less trusting, more fearful and a lot less idealistic because of 9-11.
I no longer light candles in churches. I no longer kneel and ask questions. Now, I read, research, learn and arm myself with evidence and information. Now, as a lawyer, I face the Department of Homeland Security instead of the Department of Justice when representing my clients, knowing the huge and irreversible ramifications of that shift in the American psyche. And now, I look at all that’s been lost as the result and the senseless actions of a bunch of delusional, primitive, blood thirsty killers and still feel sad and bewildered.
On the tenth anniversary of that terrible day, I reflect on those who weren’t as lucky as me- those who lost their lives and those who live their lives without their loved ones. I mourn their loss, as well as the loss of the pre 9-11 America and the world in general. And I mourn the life I had before that sunny Tuesday morning.
In loving memory of all who lost their lives on and because of September 11, 2001.