Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remember When...

I've already read several 9/11 accounts around the blogosphere this morning, and thought I'd chime in to the many of us remembering. (It's also the 4-year anniversary of meeting my husband, so it's a little bittersweet.)

I was living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with my family. As junior in high school, I went down to eat breakfast and found my mom glued to CNN.

It was 8:30am on September 12th (8:30pm in NYC) - a full 12 hours after it had happened.

"The World Trade Center got hit. The towers fell," my mom told me without taking her eyes off the television.

I'd never heard of the World Trade Center in the US before - the only WTC I knew of was a mall in Bangkok. Noticing my blank look, my mom explained, "This is a huge deal. This is something that will go down in history. People will remember this forever."

I watched CNN with her until I had to catch the bus to school.

As I walked down the road, I remember thinking, "Is this it? Is the world going to end now?" There was an intense moment of perspective for me, as a 16-year-old: How could I be stupid as to ever worry about silly things like my clothes and hair?

We got to school and my principal called an assembly. An American, he teared up as he explained what had happened. We'd have class, we could talk to the counselors, we should pray for the people, he said.

It was sinking in - even half a world away, that this was a big deal.

Going to an international school - where only 15% of the students were American, and living in a predominantly Muslim country during the processing and aftermath of the September 11th attacks was one of the most unique experiences I'll ever have.

My friends and family were wrought with worry and fear - was I okay in a Muslim country!? As an American!?

Slowly, Islam started to gain more attention in the US. It started to gain more fear in the US. Surrounded by practicing Muslims, I didn't understand. What was so scary?

I went back to Ohio in September for an aunt's wedding. I visited my old high school, and my French teacher, whom I'd adored, told a joke. A joke about Muslims. A joke that equated "Muslim" with "terrorist".

My heart broke in disappointment and anger rose up in my throat. I couldn't believe it was socially acceptable to tell a joke like that.

I learned a lot from that time. A whole lot. My worldview expanded, I gained perspective, and grew.

It changed me.

The attack was terrible. The loss of individuals was awful. I can't even fathom how scary it would be.

Sometimes, though, it makes me sad that we're so outraged by loss when it happens to our people, but dismissive when it happens to others. I don't know why this is. I don't want to minimize the horror of September 11th, but I want to tell you a little story.

Three years later, I was in Malaysia again for Christmas visiting my family.

A tsunami with the same energy as 23,000 Hiroshima-type atomic bombs rocked South and Southeast Asia.

Over 150,000 people died. One hundred and fifty thousand.

Back in the LA airport, a stewardess asked why the flag was at half-mast. Her friend replied it was for the tsunami.

"Well, that's stupid."

My face got hot with anger and I started to shake a little. How could 150 thousand people dying be a stupid thing to mourn? Is it because they're from developing nations? Are they not as valuable? Is it because they're not American? WHY? I wanted to ask her.

But I didn't. I swallowed my anger and prayed that others were more compassionate than her.


  1. That's a beautiful and insightful reflection. Thank you!

  2. I understand your frustration, I had friends in Thailand when that tsunami hit, but even I can't take in how many people died there. 9/11 was a different experience for me because I had lived in the US and been to the WTC and it just hit home a little more I guess. I do hate that it suddenly became acceptable to say horrible things about people, or lump them all together in the same group, just because a minority had done something so horrendous.

  3. ashley - you're story is amazing and you told it beautifully.
    i FELT so much while reading it. it is so interesting to hear your 'version' of 9/11, from another country, in a completely different part of the world.
    thank you for sharing doll.ox

  4. I can't begin to profess how much I adore reading your blog.

    You think left of center and mention things most don't think of

    And I appreciate that

    A whole, whole lot.

  5. thanks for this. a wonderful message that more people should hear.

  6. Wow, what a wonderful and enlightening experience. I'm so glad there are people like you in the blogosphere to spread such a great message.

  7. that was a great post...

    i too have read a few 9/11 memory stories - it's so interesting to hear about how other people heard about these tragedy!

  8. wow. to not only be in high school at the time but to me in Malaysia too?!?!!? wow. great story.

  9. That was a lovely post. I never really knew what to say today…so I didn’t say much. It's not that I am intentionally ignoring the day, but its hard to put into words. Like when someone passes away, I never say “I know how you feel,” because someone can never, ever know how anyone else feels, the experience is different for everyone. Sometimes its easier to simply say “I’m here when you need me”

  10. 9/11 is definitely a day that I will never forget!

  11. It's so enlightening to hear the "other side". I have nothing but respect for you. The sheer ignorance of people really amazes me.

  12. Ashley, thank you for sharing this story here- I think your message is a very important one. Why did it seem like we all became so bloodthirsty after this event? I can even look back on my own feelings, and it truly scares me to think of how I wanted to channel my anger. The event exposed the most raw parts of us as human beings, good and evil.

    I definitely think it is okay to mourn the loss of your own countrymen with a deeper grief than those individuals a world away. BUT, (and that is a BIG but), there is absolutely no excuse for the callous uncaring for humankind that was demonstrated by the person in the airport. Everyone has the same value in God's eyes, wherever they happen to live, and however they happen to die. It is our job to promote the value of each person's life. Things can get very complicated and messy when our callings as human beings and God's children collide with our nation's interests and military exploits. Definitely a cvery weighty matter to spend much time in thought and prayer about. Thank you for your heart!

  13. beautifully written. loved hearing about your experience. I think it's interesting that everyone always remembers what they were doing at the time they found out.

  14. Ashley, I love how you wrote this! It was so beautiful -- your story seriously gave me the chills! You are such an amazing person and you have such a big heart! I'm so glad we're blog friends ... I didn't write anything about 9/11 because I didn't know how to say anything without talking about how I hate the war in Iraq and how 9/11 has been exploited ... I didn't want to write it because I felt like it would turn into a rant or something and I didn't want it to seem like I was taking away from the families who lost loved ones and what they went through. It's so cool you lived in Malaysia at the time -- that must have been SUCH a neat experience! ANd I can't believe that lady at the airport or people who would make hateful jokes ... but in explaining it, you weren't hateful at all towards people who didn't have open minds but instead were just compassionate towards them. That is indeed a gift. You are wonderful Ashley dear! xoxox Lava you!

  15. Your view is eye-opening. I have yet to hear a story like yours. I love it and wish more Americans would follow a similar approach.


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