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9/11 changes or reinforces deeply held beliefs

In 2006, we asked readers tell how their lives were transformed by Sept. 11 and its aftermath. Here, in their own words, are some of their stories.

Name: Steve Abbed
Age: 43
Hometown: Reno, Nevada

I'm a Palestinian-American working in a Christian ministry in Gaza.

When 9/11 happened, I was in Jerusalem's Old City on the way to church. I didn't know what happened until I went to an internet cafe after church and read, "Twin Towers Collapse." I was shocked and devastated. I felt for sure, "I am an American."

All the pride and love I ever felt for America, I felt at that moment. I didn't care about foreign or domestic policies. It infuriated me that some of my Palestinian brothers and sisters danced on the graves of the 9/11 victims. I found that my identity is American, whatever else it may be.

America, I know, is a good country that God has blessed to be a blessing in a tumultuous world. It makes mistakes sometimes but its heart is good and that makes me proud to be American.

As a Palestinian, I sometimes feel "bi-polar" because of my two identities -- "Palestinian" and "American" -- but that only happens when others try to force me to have to choose loyalties. I didn't ask for this contradiction but I am more than comfortable with it.

What 9/11 assured me of as I struggled through this painful self-discovery is that I am an American. If anyone hurts America, they hurt me. If America wins, I win. If America loses, I lose.


Name: Alicia Hicks
Age: 40
Hometown: Alexandria, Ala.

So ironic I found this [nvitation to write to] because I was just recently going through my mind thinking of the many changes I have experienced since 9/11.

I have become a racist, cynical, lost all respect for authority, lost direction for my daughter. I developed a sadness for all those younger than me, LOST HOPE for our future, became a very impatient, angry person.

I feel that our youth today get away with so much more and I feel we are raising an "entitled and selfish" generation because of the doomed future we saw as we watched the events of 9/11.

Why should we raise our children to "not have sex", "don't be lazy and sleep in", get a job... why???? Is there going to be great joy in putting these things off for YOUR FUTURE when no one has a clue as to what our future holds???

I know to put "all things in Christ" and, believe me, I would never tell my daughter these things, but I know every decision I have made since 9/11 is overshadowed by the fact of a very uncertain future that awoke me on that terrible Tuesday.

The only prayer I have for the future is that the youth of today will become more informed, compassionate, and aware of how to change the situations they can control through elections and banding together.

For what it's worth 9/11 hurt me horribly. I am 40 years old and a white, educated female living in Alabama.

Name: Sandra McElwain
Age: 41
Hometown: Cleveland, Ohio

I was born an American citizen in Northern Ireland in 1966. My father, who was in the American Air Force, was stationed in Northern Ireland where he met my mother who was born and raised in Dublin.

I have lived in the United States for most of my life but I have always been close to my Irish roots. In the early seventies, my mom, two brothers, and I lived with my grandmother in Dublin for a year while my dad served in Korea. We made friends, and attended school and church there. Since then I have visited Ireland several times.

Before September 11, I didn't think much about what it meant to be an American. In fact, I was most proud of my Irish roots. Because of my love for Ireland, I have always considered myself Irish first and American second. When I was younger I always thought I'd like to live there when I became an adult. Being Irish seemed much more interesting than being an American.

On September 11, 2001, I was beginning my day at work at a large company in Ohio. I was on the phone with a coworker who was traveling that day when I heard her ask a companion about what she saw on the television.

I asked her what was going on and she told me that it looked like a plane had crashed into a building. "I'll have to check it out." I said to her. I always checked the news online in the morning. It wasn't long before I and many coworkers were gathered around the cable television in the building's fitness center.

I couldn't believe my eyes and will never forget the feeling of helplessness as I watched the Towers fall. I will also never forget feeling violated and angry. "How dare they do this to the United States," I thought. "How dare they do this to us."

That's when I realized that I had been wrong all my life. I wasn't Irish first, I was American first. Not only was I American first, but I was proud of being an American.

I had been driving for 15 years in 2001 and I'd always proudly displayed an Irish emblem on my car. On September 12, I bought an American flag to put in my car's back window so everyone would know that I was an American and that I was proud to be an American.

I've kept an American flag on my car ever since. I still have an Irish emblem, but the American flag means much more to me. It represents a profound day in American history, and a profound day in my life. It was the day I discovered who I really am. I am an American.


Name: Gail Brown
Age: 33
Hometown: Millbury, Mass.

My first son was 10 days old when the towers were hit. I struggled previously with the idea of whether it is right to bring a child into this world and that day I knew that I'd made a mistake.

I no longer believe in god. Not because I can't believe he'd let this happen, but because these people did this in the name of religion, which I now understand to be part of the trinity of evil, power, money, and religion -- which are all the same, religion is power, money is power, etc.

I cry every time I read a personal story or see any footage of the towers, as I do when I watch footage of Iraqi families being ripped to shreds for oil/money.

The attack on the towers freed me and imprisoned me. Freed me from the confines of organized religion and imprisoned me with having to live with my eyes wide open. The towers represent hope and innocence to me, both of which no longer stand up for me.

Name: Maureen Wiltsee
Age: 51
Hometown: New Milford, N.J.

Having grown up in the Bronx, worked in Manhattan and played in both boroughs, I felt I was a true New Yorker. My family moved to NJ in the mid '70s when the neighborhood, once one of the most desirable in the Bronx, started seeing evidence of change and it was not for the better.

I still returned every weekend to "hang out" with the crowd and be a part of the pulse of the nation as I saw it. Then life changed, old friends got married, moved away and I settled into life in suburbia.

I still worked in Manhattan for a few years after the move and the commute was a drag on me financially and physically. Giving in to the inevitable, I became a real suburbanite, car and all. No more 4 or D train to get me where I wanted to go, never mind the A train to Rockaway Beach, my childhood riviera.

I still visited NY but with less frequency, usually on family visits or work related matters. I never really felt a true New Jerseyite and always loved to brag about being from NY even when my heart was breaking at the change to my old stomping grounds. My high school was a casualty of fiscal irresponsibility in the Archdiocese and that nailed it for me. I settled into marriage and life on the other side of the river.

When 9/11 hit, it hit me cold and hard. I knew first responders, the same guys I ran around with as a kid, a relative who by the grace of God was spared certain death by giving in to his vanity and stopped for a shoe shine, a friend who was stuck on the PATH train coming from Jersey City.

My old work place was directly across from the Trade Center and I remembered how much I loved to exit the train at Dey Street to look up at the sun hitting the towers and thinking how beautiful it was. All the love and pride I had in NYC came flooding back and I had a special reverence for it once again.

The souls who perished that day remain a part of the city and always will. It reminds us just how special people are to us. We can replace material things but cannot replace a living breathing person, one who gives and teaches love.

My heart was re-opened that day. Each time I visit Ground Zero, the pride I have for the first responders grows to bursting, the appreciation I have for the little things in life broadens and most of all, the meaning of family, friends and goodness is reinforced in my very fabric.

I have become a softer person and I tried not to become a blindly lashing out at all those "others" type. They are the worst of the worst. Yes, I want to avenge these deaths but I think of them as a gift to humankind, a warning as to what we can become and make damn sure not to.