My Personal Tie-in to 9/11
I no longer have a connection to an Arab last name or live intimately in an Arab culture, but every year September 11th carries reminders of my own twin tower collapse.
When I married Ihab, an Egyptian Muslim, it seemed we had the strength to overcome so many obstacles. His words reassured me that he was committed to whatever life threw us–including his father’s wrath, his mother’s grief, and a military court marshal. He survived all three and came out unscathed, even from the military investigation conducted under blinding lights and threat of imprisonment.
When I announced to my mother that I was marrying Ihab in Egypt, the terror those words drove into her heart were enough to prevent her from driving for a week. Mom feared that I would never return to the United States again. She didn’t know him and didn’t trust foreign countries. Marrying a foreigner prevented my father from ever connecting to my husband in the same ways he had with any of my siblings’ partners–mostly because he didn’t know Ihab’s family, or background. I robbed him of that.
We faced all these outside influences intact–two towers with strong girders.
We purposely built them into our relationship as we bridged our religious and cultural differences by focusing on our shared values–tolerance, loving others, optimism, humor and kindness.
Our families and even his military saw the red flags we didn’t.
We talked at length if we should risk having children and passing on my hereditary genetic condition of Retinitis Pigmentosa. “We are strong enough to cope with even that,” Ihab insisted. “You have a big heart and see beauty where others see only ugliness. Regardless of the outcome, you will be a model mother.”
Swept away by his words of faith in me, we became pregnant with twins our first year together as we settled in neither America nor Egypt, but in a third country – the United Arab Emirates.
But in the fifth month of my pregnancy, I was rushed to the hospital after the loss of one twin. There, I was admitted and faced dramatic twists and turns for the next six weeks as we tried to save the second twin–all to lose her in the final moments of her birth!
Devastating anguish followed.
This loss impacted our relationship. Our faiths and cultural differences prevented us from sharing our deepest emotions about what happened. The girders we so carefully built had begun to weaken.
On September 11, 2001–morning in America, evening in the United Arab Emirates–the first planes flew into the Twin Tower and it collapsed. My husband calmly came into my office and delivered the news. I ran to the television to watch as the disaster unfolded. When the second tower collapsed, we knew it wasn’t an accident.
The day the twin towers collapsed, so did my marriage.
The man I married, the one I once felt was compassionate to the core, seemed hard and unfeeling to the agony of what was going on in my country. In a complicated twist of accusations, he blamed my government.
In the days that followed, so did more recriminations. His friends, once our friends, came to the house and criticized my country. They talked about the unfair treatment of Arabs in the United States in the aftermath of 9/11. Because of the negativity and my husband’s inability to empathize with what had happened in New York City, I became defensive. “Go somewhere else to air your views. Don’t bring them into my house to talk like that. I’m still your wife!”
His disregard for my feelings grew as did my defensiveness and we had our own fiery collapse.
We were divorced less than a year later.
When I see 9/11 footage of the dazed workers standing in the dust-filled rubble of Ground Zero, it always makes me think of myself, also dazed, standing in the ruins of my own life. I couldn’t find my husband there. I searched and searched but the man I knew and loved had disappeared. I found someone who looked like him but this man couldn’t have been the one filled with optimism for our lives. He was angry, accusing, disrespectful and unkind toward the people and country I valued. This came on top of the loss of his disappointment that I could not seem to bear him a child. The death of our twins collapsed the first tower and the terrorists effectively demolished our second.
9/11 brings such a sense of futile loss.
It didn’t have to happen.
I know losing my children and my marriage cannot be compared to what much of America experienced in the actual collapse of the Twin Towers. But my private devastation is and will always be linked to that day. I cannot hear the words, twins, towers, Ground Zero and Arab without remembering and comparing them to my own sense of invincibility and subsequent shaken faith in all I believed in for a time.
Fifteen years of my life. Gone up in plumes of smoke.
But, like so many others, I’ve moved on from Ground Zero and have dug myself out from the rubble. God ministered to me throughout my personal collapse and helped me to channel my energies into an optimistic outlook once more.
My faith now consists of stronger girding and I no longer fear collapse.