UP THE CREEK - Before and After:
September 11, 2001
“This horror will grow mild, this darkness light.”
—John Milton, Paradise Lost
Drawing by Sarah Young, age 14, September 12, 2001
September 11, 2001
On a Mediterranean-blue-sky morning in central New Jersey, I’m at my desk on a writing deadline. The windows are open and the scent of sweet autumn clematis drifts into the room. Instead of staring at my computer screen, I’m thinking about how, if I squint at the sky in just the right way, I can pretend I’m back on Turkey's Lycian coast.
My daughter, Sarah, is at school, and my husband, Fred, is at his office just outside New York City. The birds sing and the cat curls up on the chair. I surf the web for a while, answer a few e-mails, and finally focus on my work.
A few minutes past nine, the phone rings. Angie’s name appears on the caller ID. It’s just after six a.m. in California. She’s up early, I think, as I pick up the receiver.
“Can you believe this is happening?” she says, her voice strained.
“What are you talking about?” I say.“Has there been an earthquake?”
“No. My sister just called from Oregon. A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. They think it’s a terrorist attack. Another plane is heading toward San Francisco!”
Phone in hand, I turn on the television and see smoke billowing through the familiar streets of lower Manhattan. I tell Angie I’ll call back and immediately phone my mother, who lives outside New York City and has just heard the news. I call Fred, who has colleagues in the first tower. He says he can see smoke from his office. I call Sarah’s high school. The secretary says the kids are safe and will be sent home at noon. I think of our friends who work in the city, friends who work in the towers, friends with children.
Feeling simultaneously empty and panicked, I take a breath. Later, I stand in front of the television and watch the towers fall again and again—images so unbelievable, they seem new each time the cycle repeats itself.
My cell phone rings. I answer.
“Canım, my dear, are you all right? How is your family? Allah-Allah.
“Bekir?” I say. My breath catches in my throat. My eyes sting. How has he been able to reach me from his shop on the Mediterranean Coast of Turkey?
“We are seeing what happened. It is all over the news,” he says. We are so worried about you and Angie. Doğan is here, too. Who would do such a terrible thing? We are sending our love and prayers.”
After I hang up, I sit down and write a note in my journal: The first two people to call me are Angie from California and Bekir from Turkey.
Because I’ve given talks on religion, including Islam and Sufism, in the days that follow I’m invited to many interfaith group meetings and speak with members of the Muslim community who have lost loved ones in the towers. “This was an act of terror by crazy people,” we all agree.
“Are you and Angie still going to Turkey in December?” friends ask.
“We already have our tickets,” I say, but I hesitate. I have a husband and daughter to think about. But Bekir has also arranged to bring us to the Festival of the Whirling Dervishes who honor the great mystic and poet, Jelaludin Rumi. The festival happens once a year in Konya in December, the month the mystics say Rumi rose to meet the light of god.
Even as I hesitate, a larger part of me says, "Go."
“I’ve spoken to Bekir and Ebru,” Angie says when I phone and mention my concerns. “They said everyone is so sad this happened, and they promise to take good care of us.
"She reminds me that after the first Gulf War broke out, she had gone to Kenya and Tanzania in East Africa.
“In spite of the travel warnings, I’m glad I went,” she says, adding that with few tourists, she had had the game parks almost to herself. “I really got to know the people and never had to worry for a moment about my safety.”
As September becomes October and November and the airlines institute new security policies, Angie and I formulate our itinerary. We have long discussions about our own fears, but they have more to do with flying in a plane than traveling in Turkey.
My husband is skeptical, but Sarah comes home from school one day and says, “I told my social studies teacher you were going to Turkey next month. She asked if I was scared, and I said you have lots of friends there. And besides, you’ll be with Angie and Bekir.”
The trust in her eyes and words gives me the go-ahead I need.
(Editor's Note: Excerpted from the memoir, Anatolian Days & Nights, A Love Affair with Turkey - Land of Dervishes, Goddesses and Saints, published March, 2012, by Wild River Books.)