Remembering 9/11

I know a man here in Baghdad who is from New York and who lost 61 people from his neighborhood on September 11, 2001. I asked him how he felt today. He recounted that after 9/11, he went up to New York from Florida (where he was living at the time) to support his friends and their families, the guys from his neighborhood, many of whom, being firemen and policemen, were part of the unfolding events of that day. He told me with tears in his eyes that they told him when they pulled up to the World Trade Center that they all knew that some of them would die that day, yet they did not question for a moment going in. They went into those buildings, helped the disabled and the elderly and, with a joke and a smile, said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you.” He commented that it surprised him that the country and the world marveled at what they called heroism during these circumstances. They didn’t consider themselves heroes; it was just what you do. This was how they were raised: duty, honor, and loyalty were everything. This man told me no question 9/11 and those guys are the reason he is here today risking his own life in Iraq.I so appreciate the reminder that acting with honor, risking everything, loyalty, and duty to God and our fellow man are not supernatural acts of heroism, but are just what you do, what God made us capable of doing. I am grateful to be reminded that no loss can occur from such action, since we can’t really lose anything when we are doing what God would have us do. I am constantly in awe, inspired, and humbled by the tremendous acts of courage, commitment, and love that I see daily here on all sides, Iraqi, American, European, etc. I start the day greeting the gurkas that protect our compound day and night, which must be a terribly boring duty just to check badges and stand guard. These gurkas who are so mild-mannered, polite, and cheery, but who are highly trained killers. (A Marine who tried to test the resolve of one of the gurkas by creeping up behind him almost had his throat slit in an instant.) I then make it to the Embassy where more than half of the political officers are married with kids at home -- both women and men -- who volunteered to serve in a war zone away from their family, work ridiculous hours and live in cramped conditions. Although many express cynicism at times, I have not found one person who does not believe that he can make a difference here and who does not admit that that is truly why he is here. I am fortunate to spend all day with Iraqis from all backgrounds, faiths, and experiences, ranging from returning expatriates who had fled Saddam’s regime and lived comfortable lives abroad but who returned to deplorable and dangerous conditions just to help rebuild their country, and others who stayed and endured the full brutality and hardships of the Baathist regime. I am moved by not only the stories of their past and what they have endured but their unwavering commitment, grace, and hope for the future in the face of situations and conditions that do not seem to be improving.Every day is 9/11 here. Every day we are looking up at that World Trade Center, knowing that someone may die today, but it is just what you do. You smile at the gurka, say "hooah" to the Marine, march up Saddam’s palace’s crumbled steps, throw on your body armor and helmet, and face the day.This was my journal entry in Baghdad on September 11, 2004. And I must tell you that re-reading it today moves me. "It's just what you do." It's as simple as that. When terrorism strikes, let's not become immobilized by fear or strike back indiscriminately, but help others in their time of need. When refugees are fleeing war, chaos, and instability, let's open our hearts--and borders--and welcome them in, just as America has always been a refuge and a new beginning to people from all over the world.Although 9/11 happened in this country nearly fourteen years ago, think of the daily bombings and destruction happening in Syria, a country in which I was fortunate to spend time living with a Syrian family and studying Arabic in 2010. This video of a group of Syrian volunteers, the White Helmets, that risks their lives every day to rescue their fellow countrymen from the rubble, reminds me of those policemen and firemen who gave their all in New York. Talk about heroes. Get some tissue. You'll need it.Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 3.01.15 PM