United We Stand; Divided We Fall: A 9/11 reflection

I was seven-years-old, just arriving to my second-grade classroom. The TVs in every classroom were on. The eyes of everyone in the building were glued to the screen: teachers, principals, students, parents, janitors. We watched as the smoke billowed out of the Twin Towers. We watched as they fell.

At the time, I did not fully understand what was happening, nor did I understand the severity, the magnitude of what was unfolding right before my eyes. I remember some of the teachers standing stoic, some with their mouths agape, unable to speak, and still others visibly shaken with tears streaming down their faces. I remember the palpable tension in the air—so thick, I swear it could have been cut with a knife.

Normally rowdy students were silent, with eyes wide and quivering lips, unsure what was happening, mimicking their teachers’ actions. The whole school, from Kindergarten to fifth grade, was in shock, unable to catch its breath.

Not much learning was done that day.

A lot of learning has been done since.

I’ve learned the causes and effects. I’ve come to understand how one catastrophic event can change the course of history, can change perceptions in society.

I’ve learned that hate only breeds more hate; only love can conquer all.

I’ve learned that people are judged based on their religion: I hope when people of other religions see that I’m a Christian, they don’t associate me with the Westboro Baptist Church. I don’t associate Islam with terrorism because nothing could be further from the truth. Anybody is capable of such an act.

I’ve learned that history often repeats itself, but the only way to stop the vicious cycle is by learning from our past, those who have walked before. The mistakes of our ancestors play a role in our present and our future. How much of a role is yet to be determined.

I’ve learned that nothing brings a country together, the world together, like a shared understanding of tragedy.

I’m 21 years old now. 14 years later, and memories of that day are still seared into my mind—as they are with everybody who was alive. Just like with the assassination of JFK, we all remember where we were that day.

And we won’t ever forget.

I won’t ever forget being huddled in my Aunt and Uncle’s living room that night with the whole family, all eyes glued to the television. My Aunt and Uncle, having just moved from New Jersey, my Uncle having just finished working in the big city, were the most shaken.

I vividly remember the color leave my Aunt’s face as she whispered, “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe it.”

We couldn’t believe it, and we won’t ever forget it.

We won’t ever forget the fathers, the mothers, the sons, the daughters, the sisters, the brothers, the first responders who lost their lives that day.

We won’t ever forget because of the impact this tragedy had on the world, the profound influence it had on history.

We won’t forget because that day we were able to put aside our differences and stand as one. Not just us Americans, but all of our allies around the world.

We won’t forget because that day we were all Americans.

There are many things I’d change about America given the chance, but one thing I wouldn’t is the way we stand together in the face of tragedy—even though it takes a tragedy to remind us of what binds us together: we’re all human.

Sometimes we forget that because we are too busy focusing on our differences; we’re too busy using “Hot-Air Rhetoric” to push our own beliefs that we forget what we all want, what our Founding fathers founded this country on, why so many people move to this country: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to remind us that we’re all American.

We all fly the same flag: white symbolizing purity and innocence; red symbolizing hardiness, valor, and courage; blue symbolizing vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

United we stand; divided we fall.

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I Didn’t Want to Ruin My Rapist’s Lives

A year and a half after I was raped, when I first start telling people about it, one of the first questions I was asked was, “Why didn’t you report it?”

At 15 years old, the simplest answer I had, was: I didn’t want to ruin their lives.

At 15 years old, I was more concerned with protecting the reputation of my rapists than getting help for myself. I had seen it before. I still see it: a young woman accuses a young man of rape. The media refers to the young man as a “promising young athlete with a bright future ahead of him,” while referring to the young woman as “the victim,” or simply, “the girl,” as if she didn’t have a bright future in front of her. (I’m looking at you, Steubenville.)

When you’re 13 and raped, 15 and trying to explain what happened to you, and you live in a society that calls a victim’s actions into question in order to justify rape, serious damage is done to everybody.

To the rape victims, it teaches use that this was our fault. We are dirty. (I used to believe this; now I know it’s not true.)

To the would-be-rapists, it teaches that as long as one can come up with a good reason to show that they were tempted by the “victim,” they may be able to get away with it.

This is Rape Culture. (And before you say, Rape Culture is a myth perpetuated by feminists in order to destroy men. You need to know that 1. You know absolutely nothing about feminism. 2. I am more concerned with helping women and minorities than I am with destroying men. 3. Rape Culture is no myth. 4. I live it every day.)

I live with it every time somebody asks me, “What were you wearing? What did you do? You’re making this up, right?”

Fact: I was wearing a hoodie and jeans. He asked me out, and I said, “No.” This is as real as my love of books, which, if you know anything about me, is enormous.

I live with it every time I hear a guy talking to his friends about how his biggest fear is being accused of rape.

Fact: you are more likely to know someone whose rape is unreported than you are to be accused of rape you didn’t commit.

I live with it every time I go out in public dressed up.

Fact: you may be a man, and I may be a woman, but my body is my body, not yours to look out.

I live with it every time I’m asked why I didn’t report my rape.

Fact: I kept quiet out of fear—fear that no one would believe me, people would blame me, people would ostracize me.

It’s easier to live with the rape quietly, in private than it is to live with all the victimizing questions, to have your name dragged through the mud. It’s easier to suffer in silence than to suffer publicly (just ask every celebrity).  To be honest, sometimes I’d rather go back in time and never tell anybody what happened to me than have people ask me what I was wearing, doing. But then I realize that’s not true. Telling people has allowed me to help others. Because I’m not the only one of my friends to go through this.

When I was 15 and talking about my rape for the first time, people asked me why I didn’t report it.

Back then, the only answer I had, was: “I don’t want to ruin their lives.”

Truth is, looking back, I didn’t want to ruin my own. It’s easier to forget and forgive than it is to have long-drawn-out allegations and accusations.

Sometimes, I wonder if I made the right choice. I can’t help wonder if they’ve done it again, and if they have, is it all my fault for not stepping up to the plate, taking a swing?

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with my past and the way things have unfolded. But I’m ok with it now.

Yes, sometimes it still hurts; sometimes I get riled up when people talk about rape as if it’s no big deal; sometimes, I still have flashbacks.

And that’s ok. Because it’s a part of my past that has seen the light of day. And from it, beauty has been created.

I used to idealize people who were brave enough to talk about the dark parts of their past. Now I’m one of them.

The problem with putting people or groups on pedestals because we perceive them to be better than ourselves, is that, when it comes down to it, underneath it all, they’re humans just like us—capable of harm. We all make mistakes.

I have forgiven others.

But, perhaps most importantly of all, I have forgiven myself for the mistakes I have made: for believing I was dirty, impure, less of a person; for believing the lies that it was all my fault.