A Break-Up Story

I was just listening to a podcast commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, and it talked about the "national unity" immediately after the attack. If there was a sense of unity, for me, it didn't last the day.

I was at work, vacuuming the shop before it opened, when the towers were struck. The few of us in that early gathered in the back office and watched on the small tv as the towers fell. We stood in shock, wondering if we should believe our eyes. By the end of the day, some staff and customers were talking about revenge, long before anyone knew who was responsible for the attacks. Their fervor, echoed by the president, was an affront. Why, I couldn't understand, did anger outweigh the sadness?

Over the following weeks, a pro-American/anti-Islam sentiment spread across my small town—if there was no one specific to blame, at least there was an other. At the time I was dating a Muslim. Dating is too light a word. We had started as friends, writing long letters to each other over the years, as he moved around the country with his family. Through those letters, he shared his journey as he fell in love and converted to Islam. I can't say his sentiments always resonated with me, but I appreciated his spirituality and shared his values.

By the time 9/11 happened, we had been living together for several years and were daydreaming about a family. And then the snide comments about Muslims started. Daily. Even in the congregation we had adopted as a place of common spirituality.

Even from community members we had long respected. My boyfriend, who was already isolated as a lonely Muslim in a small town, felt even lonelier. Maybe it would have turned out differently if he had access to a Muslim community. Or maybe it would have turned out differently if I had really put into practice the daily spiritual habits we talked about sharing.

Maybe there were reasons we would have broken up anyway, but in the aftermath of 9/11, he just couldn't see going through life with someone who couldn't share his prayers and his love for Islam and for Mohammed (in respect, peace be upon him).

I'm sure breaking up with your first love is always hard, but I was reeling. Like so many, the future I thought was certain simply evaporated. And every so often I can't help but wonder what if. When I think of 9/11, it is with sorrow for those that died in New York and Pennsylvania and Virginia, those who have struggled with health issues since, and their families, but it is also with sorrow for the unity that never really was.

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