I’ll be the first to say that whenever I read a book or watch a movie, I prefer the flashbacks to be to the point, and provide insight. After all, nobody likes to listen to a long-winded story, and, like any experienced writer, I like getting right to the point; but, I would be remiss not to cover some of the major lessons I learned growing up.
One thing I can promise is that each moment and lesson I share with you is important, and that, like all stories; there are some plot twists, sis.
Actually, a LOT of plot twists; but, I digress.
I could talk more about how the bullying at school got worse during these years; but really, that started to matter less to me than the very real world and mature things I was experiencing. By 2000 my scoliosis had worsened to the point it was starting to put pressure on my organs, most notably my lungs. But, let’s not skip too far ahead.
My first heavy memory, and lesson after that whole Y2K thing that never happened was one that anyone over the age of five remembers clearly to this day, and for children old enough to understand, it was a moment that changed our understanding of the world forever, the day the Twin Towers fell in New York City.
I remember being in class at the age of nine, when our teacher received notice that a terrible ‘accident’ had happened- a passenger jet had crashed into the World Trade Center. Remember, nobody quite understood the true scale of evil that was unfolding, and so, our teacher turned the television on and we all watched a replay of the first collision, only to tune in to the live feed, and watch in horror as a second passenger jet flew into the second tower.
As a child, I remember knowing something wrong had happened, and so did my classmates; but, at that age it almost felt, if only for a split second, like a scene from an American action movie. In truth, it was the day that all the kids in my class, as all of us around the world, changed, forever.
It was the day we realized that our supposedly safe world wasn’t such a safe place after all. Honestly, it probably wasn’t the greatest idea to have shown this to children, live on television; but, I’m also old enough to know that nobody, not even any of the adults at the time, saw this coming. And, none of them knew how to handle that day.
I don’t feel the need to dwell long on a story all of us know, and one that most people reading this remember all too clearly; but, I wanted to speak of how it changed our world. How it formed part of who I was, in ways I never would’ve known at the time.
I for one remember life seeming lighter before September 11.
Or maybe, I was just seeing the world clearly for the first time.
I think each and every one of us experienced a universal trauma on that horrific day; though of course not anywhere near the level of the people who lost their lives there, the survivors, or their families- nothing we experienced could match their pain or fear- not even a bit. That however doesn’t mean our lives didn’t change.
It was almost like everyone living in democratic countries had rose-coloured glasses on and thought that nothing could shatter our pretty, and secure little world; but, it could, and it did. And so, the first major moment, and first trauma I remember after the turn of the century was one of terror, and it was one I shared with everyone, all of you.
I mention this because I want to use it as an example of how we are different; but, how we are all the same.
We all experience pain and fear.
We experience these things in our own lives; but, we also experience things as one.
For many people my age, I think this was our first lesson that both solidarity and pain are universal. For, after the attack on the world trade centre, the world rallied together to better protect our people, and as a lesson that true hatred and violence should have no place in a civilized world.
With that said, I do believe the war that followed did nothing to better our world. And that violence should never be met with violence.
Watching how one terrible thing led to more terrible things opened my eyes at a young age.
Seeing the hatred people from the Middle East were facing due to the actions of a few evil people truly broke my heart. I admit I only had the insight to prejudice at that age because one of my best friends' family came from Egypt, and they were amazing people, kind hearted people; who the world was now treating as an enemy.
As a kid, I myself had never seen the differences in people; after all, we aren't born with hate in us. I just saw who they were by their heart and soul- and I admit that before 2001, I thought most people believed the same.
It was then that I learned people were not just mean to those who were disabled, or gay; but, that some people cared about the colour of someone’s skin, what religion they followed, or where they came from.
Little did I know it at the time; but, how I chose to react after learning this information would form who I was for the rest of my life. I chose to stand side by side with that friend every day while the same people who bullied me, told him that he was a terrorist who should go back to his own country.
Because he was my friend and he was being targeted for being different.
All I knew at that age was that being treated as less than for being different wasn’t right.
I also knew that there was power in friendship, and that even one person on your side was all it takes to get through the hardest times, and so, I chose to be that for him.
After all, real friends are hard to come by, and there is more to gain from kindness than there is from hatred.
In standing up for that little boy, I gained a friend of sixteen years, and it would’ve been longer; but, all things do come to an end some day- and I will get to that some day in a few more chapters.
One other thing you should know about me is I love a good cliffhanger and a plot twist- so, all I will say is, that little boy would make a mistake, and not be there when I needed him at one of the most pivotal moments of my life in 2015.
Back to the point at hand. 9/11 changed all of our lives forever; and for me, it was a moment that led to me having to choose who I wanted to be.
I also promised you that I would never throw stones without shattering my own glass house; and so, let me pick up this sledgehammer, and take the first swing.
I am not proud in admitting that being the kid who was the main target of bullying wasn’t fun, and that at that age, a small part of me was tempted to join in on the other kids nasty remarks toward this young boy; if only to hope that maybe being just as cruel as they were would finally get me accepted. Or at least get them to leave me alone.
Fuck, I know, right?
And that is where I learned we all have bad thoughts, and good thoughts; but, that it’s what you choose to act on that makes you who you are.
All I knew for sure in that moment, at the age of nine, was that someone was being made to feel less than and un-worth of love for being different, and that even if joining in on the bullying would somehow have made my life easier, it would be going against what my heart knew was right.
What was right, and what is always right, is love, and solidarity.
For in accepting our differences, and in coming together, we find strength.
With that strength, we are capable of far more than we could ever imagine.
Just imagine what we could do if we just stopped being assholes to each other.
What I knew from that day, and will know until the day I die, is that it is never the right choice to harm another person, regardless of their differences.
I also know racism has, and sadly will probably always exist; but, I know that I will always be as active as I possibly can to stand in solidarity with anyone who is made to feel less than because of their differences; be those differences a disability, who you love, the colour of your skin, or where you come from. Because, at the end of the day, regardless of all those things, we all feel love, happiness, pain, fear, and sadness, excitement, hope, and loss in the same way.
We are billions, and we are one.
I would like to encourage you to put yourself in the shoes of others whenever you are unsure of how to react to any situation; for in doing this, you will be more in tune with what is right at the core, and what is poison to your soul and our world.
I urge you to remember this, change only comes from being actively loud. When hatred shouts, you must scream love; always.
I learned this by choosing to actively stand up for a friend at one of the hardest points in their life, and I did so by watching, and listening to what he was experiencing. And even though he would prove he couldn’t do the same for me sixteen years later; I will always be forever grateful that our friendship taught me how to stand against prejudice, and to always continue learning more about how to be even a small part of the solution, ever single day.
After all, we are having a rebirth of ourselves literally every day, and it’s in what you choose to do each and every day, that you become more yourself.
So, I challenge you, whenever you encounter hatred; challenge it. Even if you think it doesn’t involve you; it does.
What you choose to do when you witness hatred, makes up part of who you are. It shapes the world we live in.
Silence doesn’t lead to change; but your voice can.
In the end, all these little words we say make all the difference, not just for ourselves; but, for each and every person we encounter.