The five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – were so important to us in New York 10 years ago in the immediate aftermath of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet, they failed to capture the loss and uncertainty we, as a nation, faced. Victims remained missing, while families struggled for closure. The emotional chaos of the nation was intensified by the attacks that targeted people of color, and the detention and disappearance of others. In the time since that Tuesday morning, we have had too much, and yet somehow not enough time to reflect. For a decade, we have been mourning. Now, from the 10-year anniversary onward, it is time for us to heal. As a Muslim and as a New Yorker, this is what I am working toward – how to help our nation begin healing.
The morning of 9/11, my heart broke and my soul fled. Buildings that represented my city and life growing up here were brought to dust. There was the loss of human life, the loss of history, and in that moment, a loss of faith. My soul was given more than it could bear.
But that moment was exactly that: a moment. To hit that state of brokenness leaves a person only one place to turn to for succor: faith. Like the great 19th century Muslim philosopher, Nasr Khusraw, this moment was my crisis that allowed me to grow into my faith and make it my own. This journey was not unique to me. Being in Manhattan after 9/11, many people came out for one another. They were believers, in their own ways, wishing for each other what they wished for themselves. They did not have to be a Muslim, Christian, Jew, or of any faith. They believed in the city and they believed in our better angels.
To see that hope, courage and conviction made me realize that I did not suffer a tragedy; we suffered a tragedy. We needed each other to move beyond tragedy. And some of us needed God to be part of that “we.” To move beyond the moment of tragedy and into the stages of reflection, understanding and growth, of mourning, was the next step in our journey.
Mourning is managing a loss. During the process, we must recognize that we have suffered a trauma, and we cannot “get over” it. Mourning is our response to trauma, which we carry with us, and knowing that we can bear it. Mourning is not sadness, which is an emotion. Rather, it is a conscious act. The act of mourning does not happen to us, rather we shape it and sculpt it. We have the anger of the unexpected loss, but it does not have to define our relationship with our loved ones, our community or our trauma.
Each person’s loss on that day, like a loss any day, was unique. There was no use in talking about shared suffering. There was too much absence in those days to look at a shared sorrow being halved. Instead, we needed to talk of amana, the trust that we have been given by God. Each day is a blessing to do something good in this world. We should be thankful for the trust that loved ones fulfilled in our lives, and to be reminded of the trust that we have yet to fulfill. We can feel bitter about not having more of the goodness, or we can be thankful we had what we did.
Part of mourning is telling our stories and to make this tragic event ours.
For us to move forward, we as a nation need to take control of our own narrative on this. As we commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the story we have to tell is one of building up our new communities. We need to have the conversations we never had. We need to tell of our loss, but more importantly, who was with us in those days. We met neighbors whom we did not know before and made friends we did not know we could make. We took that comfort when it came.
Now our task is to build those strong, healthy, resilient communities again. We know where we need to be. We know where we were. We now need to craft the story to get us there. The five stages of grief were not enough for us. But we can also be better now than we were before 9/11. We can be better together.
I am indebted to the “Our Better Angels” classes sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary (www.jtsa.edu/x15344.xml) for giving structure to many of these thoughts. I am also grateful to PrepareNY (www.prepareny. com) for working on many of these issues related to healing my city.
Hussein Rashid, a proud New Yorker and committed Muslim, is an academic and activist. He has taught at Harvard, Hofstra, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Virginia Theological Seminary. He is Founder of islamicate, Associate Editor of Religion Dispatches, Contributing Editor at Cyber-Orient, and a Contributing Editor for The Islamic Monthly.