AW

Putting Myself in Their Place

In Family on August 16, 2010 at 4:46 pm

The anniversary of 9/11 will be here again in less than a month.  So much has changed in the last nine years, and yet the pain of that tragic day still lingers in the hearts and minds of America.  As this anniversary approaches, a debate rages on as to whether or not an enormous mosque should be built just blocks from Ground Zero.  The decision should not come down to the constitutional right to do so, nor should it come down to yet another case of political posturing.  For once, it would be nice to see common sense and human decency come to the forefront when a decision as important as this one is being made.

Bleeding-heart liberals will likely fight for the right to build the mosque, while right-wing Republicans will oppose it.  The truth of the matter is that both extremes usually have their mind made up long before specific facts come into play.  Those that find themselves more towards the middle are usually the ones that end up taking the time to learn about both sides before rendering an opinion.  As an Independent, it would seem that this would be one of those times that I would need to do research before offering my opinion, but this case is different because of my circumstances.

Less than two months before 9/11, I lost my father very unexpectedly.  He was relatively young and in good health (much like many of the people who lost their lives in 9/11).  On a beautiful summer Sunday in 2001, my parents decided to spend the day in Central Park.  My mother sat and read a book while my father rollerbladed around the park.  Overall, a pretty typical day for them.  Until my father somehow lost his balance and fell on his head.  There were no witnesses, so we don’t really know exactly what happened.  Even if we did know what happened, it wouldn’t have changed anything.  The head injury that my father sustained was so severe that he lost his battle for life after five days of being in a coma.

For a long time after my father’s passing, the sight of someone on rollerblades made me both sad and angry.  I wondered why my father was the one to fall, get injured and die.  I wondered why others who were far more reckless on rollerblades were still alive and skating as though they didn’t have a care in the world.  To this day, over nine years later, I still think of my father whenever I see someone rollerblading without a helmet and wonder why they are so careless (even though I never once wore a helmet when we used to go together).  I can’t remember the exact date, but I do know that the last time that I ever put on rollerblades was sometime in the summer of 2001.

My father’s fall took place in Central Park.  And though the park had nothing to do with what happened, I still couldn’t bring myself to return to the place where my father basically lost his life.  It took many years before I could even drive through the park, and if not for my kids wanting to go to a playground when we were visiting Manhattan, I’m not sure that I would have ever gone into the park again.

Is it logical for me to still get sad and angry when I see people rollerblading more than nine years after my father’s accident?  Not at all.  Is it logical for me to never want to return to Central Park because it is where my father’s accident took place?  Not at all.  But logic doesn’t always prevail, especially when strong emotions come into play.  Sometimes, the heart rules the mind, and there is very little that can be done to overcome it.

If Central Park were my father’s final resting place, I would have no choice but to go and visit him there.  But luckily for me, it is not his final resting place.  After my father’s passing, I was in a downward spiral.  Life was just not the same as it was before his accident.  There were no silver linings in sight.  It took another horrific tragedy for me to find a silver lining in the way that I lost my dad…9/11!

As Americans, we all experienced 9/11 in one way or another.  I was fortunate not to have lost anyone close to me on that tragic day, but others were not so lucky.  In the years following 9/11, I found out by watching the anniversary coverage and doing some research that friends of mine did lose people very close to them.   Even before I knew about this, 9/11 hit me very hard, as I witnessed it first-hand from my balcony in Jersey City overlooking the Twin Towers.  As sad as I was about losing my father, I was comforted by the fact that I got to say goodbye to him (although he was unable to reciprocate).  I was grateful that we were able to give my father a “proper burial” (a thought that never entered my mind before 9/11).

Human life is fragile.  We all know it, but sometimes it takes the stark reality of a tragedy to remind us of just how fragile it is.  In the back of our minds, we all know that none of us is promised tomorrow (much less years) but we go about our days without dwelling on our eventual demise.  At the very least, we take solace in the fact that we will have a final resting place where the loved ones that we leave behind can come and visit us.  But for the victims of 9/11…that is not the case.

Unfortunately for many of the families of 9/11 victims, Ground Zero is the final resting place for their loved ones.  I can’t even imagine the pain that these families must feel from the lack of closure, and having no choice but to visit their loved ones in a very impersonal burial ground that is shared by thousands of people.

I know first-hand how painful it is to be reminded of the reason that my father lost his life every time that I see someone rollerblading.  To this day, I find myself looking away at times as I watch television shows or movies that use Central Park as the backdrop.   While it is a reality that I must live with, it is not one that I willingly chose for myself; just as the families of 9/11 victims didn’t choose to have Ground Zero be the final resting place for their loved ones.

Most reasonable people realize that there are good and bad people in every religion.  And though anti-Muslim sentiment in America was extremely high after 9/11, (and may still exist to this day), it does not exist to the same degree as it did nine years ago.  But we would be fooling ourselves to think that a 13-story mosque being erected in the shadows of Ground Zero is not going to add to the pain that the families of 9/11 victims already feel.

I may not be able to directly empathize with the families of 9/11 victims, but I can do so indirectly.  Our respective losses happened within weeks of each other, so the healing time is the same.  It stands to reasons that If I still have trouble seeing rollerbladers and scenes of Central Park to this day, that family members of 9/11 victims will be tormented upon each visit to Ground Zero should the proposed mosque be built merely a few blocks away.

My opinion is by no means a condemnation of the Muslim faith, and I do not think that most Muslims are terrorists.  However, the terrorists that were responsible for perhaps the most tragic day in American history were Muslim, and it would be virtually impossible for a 13-story mosque near Ground Zero to be anything other than a painful reminder of that fact.

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