The Road Unexpected

by on December 13th, 2014
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On the morning of 9/11 I was on my way to a chemotherapy appointment, fighting for my life against an internal terrorist that had taken over my life, unaware that by the end of the day, I would be sharing a completely different battle with the rest of the world. I sat trapped in a chair with a needle in my arm, forced to watch the towers fall over and over because I was too weak to reach the remote.

Now, 10 years later, I find myself and my loved ones in a very different place than the one we envisioned when we first moved to the US before the towers fell. Our family had only planned to stay 5 years – now half our family are citizens and the rest are in the process. My husband’s decision to become a citizen was partly influenced by the growing post-9/11 tendency to require US citizenship in order to work on contracts for his employer’s government and financial clients.

I wear slip-on shoes, pack a single carry-on bag and suppress the fear that my flight to visit my daughter and son-in-law (both veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom) might end up in a cornfield. I, who had been a quiet pacifist, now find myself mothering soldiers. My heart still stops when the phone rings late at night. I feel the pain of each lost child, each wife or mother’s grief as she’s handed the folded flag. I still long for peace, but I have a new respect for the young men and women who commit to preserving it.

As an immigrant, I am acutely aware of what it is to be an outsider in America post-9/11, but not in the way one might think. My English doesn’t mark me as a foreigner. I am Caucasian, Christian and blue-eyed. I have heard fear and bigotry in the words of people who look like me that chill my heart, and I have felt the distrust of those who can’t imagine I would know what it is to be a stranger in this land.

10 years ago, my goal was to survive the cancer that was eating away at my body long enough to see my children graduate from high school. I wanted nothing more than to return to my comfortable life, my family routine, my tech-industry salary.

Today, I teach immigrant children the skills I’ve learned over the half century I’ve spent on the planet for less than half the salary of my former life. And while I teach, I try to remind them that they are not just Americans, but citizens of an ever-shrinking world with a responsibility to respect and care for each other; to connect and continue to work together to preserve this country and the ideals upon which it was founded. I have hope.

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