I wrote this yesterday, but didn’t get it posted till today. Life’s like that sometimes.


Six years ago today, an event happened that changed the way Americans view themselves and the world. Who knew that one event could be so defining, so world-shaking to so many people? I certainly had no idea.

I was in Mauritania; it was afternoon. I think someone called, or maybe we went online and saw a headline. Anyway, we turned on the TV. Our TV at that point got two stations: the Mauritanian television station (MTV; no really), and a German station that showed all its programs twice—once in English, once in German. We were in time to see the second plane hit. We watched it several times, although I don’t think the impact on us was the same as it was on people in the US at the time.

Soon afterwards, the phone started ringing. It was our Mauritanian friends and acquaintances, calling to see if we had family affected by the tragedy. They were all worried about us, sharing their horror at the events. We went on a road trip to a Pulaar village in the south of the country that weekend. At police checkpoints, when the gendarme ascertained our nationalities, he saluted, apologized for the tragedy, and waved us on quickly, no hassles. The German TV station did a special program detailing all that America had done for the German people in the 50+ years since the end of WWII. At that point, early on, the world together mourned; divisions were put aside, temporarily ignored, as everyone all together grieved the loss of life.

That didn’t last, as you know. It seems that the divisions are deeper now than they were before that moment. We saw it overseas, where sometimes as Americans we needed to keep a low profile during moments of international tension. When Bush was first talking of bombing Iraq in spring 2003, one of my university students told me not to come to class if he did. “Don’t worry—we’ll protect you if something happens, but it would just be better if you didn’t come,” he told me earnestly. This last year, I taught a conversation class where the students had to give regular 5-minute speeches, and I had one student who chose the quagmire in Iraq as his topic EVERY SINGLE TIME. He took my class all year, and so I spent a lot of time squirming in my seat and wondering how he’d like it if I decided to talk about the residual slavery and racism in Mauritania every chance I got.

We see it when we come home too. We have friends from all over the political spectrum, which is yet another reason for me not to discuss politics on my blog. It seems that in the last 6 years, people have become more polarized, less likely to have anything to say to each other, less willing to listen. Things are viewed in shades of black and white. I believe in absolutes, but not when it comes to politics.

This world is imperfect, and as thinking human beings we are going to differ at one point or another. I have nothing very profound to say here, just a reminder that it’s good to talk to people who aren’t exactly like us, who view the world differently; to have friends who cover their heads in black scarves and bow to Mecca five times a day, and friends who wear tiny spaghetti-strap black tank tops and do Pilates; friends whose bumper stickers say “We support our troops” and friends whose bumper stickers say “Impeach Bush.” It’s good to remember that everybody mourns the loss of loved ones.