Monday, July 18, 2011

Words and Simplicity

‘When at first you are not close enough to know people as individuals, then you get a better look at what people are really about, your perception changes.’ Dr. Ali Chaudry smiled in the midday sun. The London School of Economics-educated Rutgers University Professor and former Bernards Township Mayor had just spent his morning speaking on and answering questions about his faith. Sweating under his suit in the library parking lot, he expounded on the peace that all of us wish for. ‘We condemned the attacks as un-Islamic,’ he said, speaking for his religious community in words that had been used many times before. ‘This was an atrocity committed by people who hijacked Islam.’

Those people, he said sadly and unequivocally, did not speak for him. They were not doing God’s work. They misinterpret the teachings of the Qur'an.

The road to enlightened agreement, he readily admits, is long and hard.

Chaudry, the first Pakistani ever to be elected mayor in the US, went on to praise the singularity of and highlight his esteem for America’s greatness of freedom. ‘I would never have opportunities like this in Pakistan, or even England,’ he said, speaking of his successes in both the public and private spheres. ‘I tell other Muslims, as I tell everyone, It truly is possible to achieve what you want here.’ America needs to be safe for everyone. There’s no room for people who think they are right and everyone else is wrong and will go to Hell.

Dr. Chaudry is not the first to voice such sentiments. Listening to him speak, it is possible to believe there can be many, many more. Enough, perhaps, to change the world.

Later in the afternoon we parked it on Atlantic Avenue, in the Boerum Hill area of Brooklyn. Among the shade trees and the storefronts brimming with incense and dates and books in Arabic we weren’t sure what we would find. It didn’t take long for our answer to come rolling up on bicycles and razor scooters.

Fadi and Omar bubbled with youth and curiosity. B’lai, the smallest and youngest of the group, let his buddies do the talking as he kept pushing himself around in half circles. Like many kids, perhaps, they were neither shy nor assuming. They spoke without fear or pretention. ‘We go to the mosque right down there,’ Fadi said. Omar told us where to get cold drinks. B’lai fell off his scooter. ‘So what’s that?’ Fadi asked, pointing at the cross. These guys weren’t even around ten years ago, but they seemed to know something about what to them might have been little more than history. ‘Cool,’ Fadi said, wiping the sweat from his face with one blue sleeve. Omar took the pad of paper Jon offered him and scribbled a simple message in red pen: ‘May God help those who died on 9-11.’

God without qualification; those who died without exception.

The message really can be that simple.

B’lai toppled over his handlebars before they all rolled away.

Kevin Earnest was just finishing another night shift as an EMT at NYU when he heard someone say a plane just hit one of the twin towers. ‘I drove down the street and saw stuff falling down around the buildings,’ he explained to us. ‘My wife begged me over the phone to come home but I knew I had to go help.’ Down among the wreckage he heard someone, knew someone was in need of help somewhere in the rubble - ‘but I couldn’t see him…had no way to get to him…’

Kevin kept at it all day – We’re EMTs, we help people. And as he recounted moment after moment of people he didn’t know coming up to shake his hand, to thank him for being there, trying to help, emotions still lingering ten years on rose up in his eyes and his voice. ‘God bless all who gave their all,’ he said, repeating the words he had written.

‘If they want to attack us again, they will,’ Kevin added, his wife resting her hand over the large yellow EMT emblazoned across his back. ‘But we can’t live in fear of going outside. We have to live day by day.’

Day by day. May God help those who died. Get a better look at what people are all about.

Words? Yes. Words that matter – in Brooklyn and in Bernards Township and in places far away. Words without qualification, or exception.

Simple words.