Voices from Silence: Personal Accounts of the Long-term Impact of 9/11 #NeverForget

The foreword from The Advocates for Human Rights’ report Voices from Silence: Personal Accounts of the Long-term Impact of 9/11. Published in February 2007, “Voices of Silence” details the impact of 9/11 on the lives of immigrants, refugees, and religious minorities in Minnesota. It documents personal stories of fear and discrimination in a post-9/11 environment and contextualizes them with an overview of laws and policies that have affected these communities. As a staff member of the organization that published this report, I was privileged to play a small part in the drafting and editing of this report.

September 11, 2014 was a day of terrible tragedy, on every level -personal, community and national. We must always honor the memory of those who lost their lives to acts of terrorism, as well as the courage of those who worked so hard to help others. But neither should we forget what happened in the United States after the terrible events of 9/11 and the impact that fear and discrimination had on a personal, community, and national level. #NeverForget

The Advocates Post

candle from morgue fileLate in the afternoon of September 13, 2001, a Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (now, The Advocates for Human Rights) staff attorney was meeting in our office with two of our pro bono clients, a Christian couple fleeing religious persecution in Egypt. Although it had been rescheduled from the afternoon of September 11, this meeting to prepare their application for asylum was routine for our organization, which provides legal representation to hundreds of asylum seekers each year. During the meeting, however, two uniformed Minneapolis police officers obtained access to the locked offices of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights and, without warning, entered the room where our clients were meeting with their attorney. Th police apologized for interrupting the meeting, but sated that they were obligated to investigate a report that a “Middle Eastern” man had entered the building, which was located next to the Federal Building in downtown Minneapolis. After…

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A Turtle Fountain, From Every Angle


I chose the turtles of the Phelps Fountain in the Lyndale Park Rose Gardens as my subject for the weekly photo challenge From Every Angle.  A cherished Minneapolis institution since 1908, the rose garden on the southeastern shore of Lake Harriet is the second oldest public rose garden in the United States.  But the turtle fountain was not always there.

One piece of history that I learned recently: for decades, thousands of people gathered on the hillside adjacent to where the turtle fountain is now to watch a popular annual children’s pageant. According to the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board,  “The public visibility of the gardens got a boost beginning in 1917 when the first playground pageant was performed on the hill above the rose garden overlooking the lake. The playground pageants included performances written specifically for the occasion and featured children in costumes from every park in the city. The first year the pageant drew a crowd of 15,000 and in later years the performance was extended to two evenings and played to crowds of 40,000. The pageant remained a popular annual event, with a hiatus during the Depression, until 1941. The pageants drew such large crowds that in 1930 the park board considered building an 18,000-seat amphitheater on the hillside at Lyndale Park to accommodate pageant crowds and host other outdoor concerts. With the onset of the Great Depression, however, funds for such a project never materialized.”

Meanwhile, in downtown Minneapolis, the 1915 Edmund J. Phelps Fountain, with its bronze turtles, sat at the center of the Gateway Park’s Beaux Arts Pavilion.  During the Great Depression, the park became a gathering place for the unemployed, homeless and transients moving through the area looking for work.   Eventually, the city drained the water from the basin of the turtle fountain to keep men from bathing in and drinking from it. Turns out that the turtles in my neighborhood park’s fountain were mute witnesses to dire poverty and suffering.

The turtle fountain was spared when Gateway Park was demolished.  In the early 1960s, a Perennial Garden was added just east of the rose garden.  The fountain was relocated in 1963 from downtown Minneapolis to the east end of this garden.

The turtle fountain, a familiar neighborhood icon, is different when seen from every (historic) angle.

See more responses to the Weekly Photo Challenge here.

A Lovingkindness Blessing

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Just over a year ago, my oldest son was infected with Lyme Disease.  There were no telltale symptoms, no fever, no bullseye rash. We never even found the tick that bit him.   Those nasty little Borrelia burgdorferi spirochetes just went straight to his heart.  He ended up in third degree heart block in the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit.  The bacterial infection caused swelling, which blocked the flow of blood.  By the next afternoon, his heartbeat was at times as slow as 25-30 bpm; normal resting heart rate for boys his age is more like 80 bpm. The Lyme Disease also wreaked havoc with his heart’s conduction system.  We found out later that the doctor had actually scheduled the operation to put a pacemaker in him.  He was only thirteen at the time.

Hospitals are strange places, where time seems to lose its meaning.  I was in hospital when each of my children was born, but the regular maternity ward is a very different place from the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit. I don’t ever recall a chaplain visiting me on the maternity floor.  On the pediatric cardiac intensive care unit, with its beeping machines and profoundly sick babies and children, the chaplain visited at least once a day.

The first time I met her, the chaplain offered me a series of bookmarks and cards with sayings from a variety of religions – Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish.  The last thing she pulled out of her bag was a a small, photocopied square of paper.

METTA

LOVINGKINDNESS MEDITATION

May I be at peace.

May my heart remain open.

May I awaken to the light of my own true nature.

May I be healed.

May I be a source of healing for all beings.

Say these blessings for yourself anytime you feel alone,

afraid or out of touch with the Light within.

May you be at peace.

May your heart remain open.

May you awaken to the light of your own true nature.

May you be healed.

May you be a source of healing for all beings.

Say these blessings for as many people as you wish.

If worried thoughts about loved ones occur during the day,

take a minute to send them a lovingkindness blessing

rather than a fearful thought.

From Buddhist Tradition

I’m not a Buddhist, but I repeated these words to myself that night as I lay on the hard, cramped cot in my son’s room.  I closed my eyes and listened to his slow, sleepy breathing, the heart monitor’s low beep. I sent my son Lovingkindness blessings until I fell asleep.

By daybreak, my son had moved from third to first degree heartblock.  Since he had been in an area where we knew there were ticks carrying Lyme, they had started him on IV antibiotics as soon as he got to the hospital.  After 24 hours, the antibiotics had kicked in fully and the infection was retreating.  (Last month, my son went back to the pediatric cardiologist for his final follow-up exam.  She gave him an “A+” for his EKG and physical exam. There appears to be no permanent damage to his heart and no lasting symptoms of Lyme Disease.)

I can’t say that I believe my son’s improvement was related to the Lovingkindness meditation or to my other prayers, but I do know that, at a time when I was worried about him,  it gave me great comfort to send him the Lovingkindness blessing.  I put the photocopied scrap of paper with the Lovingkindness meditation in my laptop case. At some point, out of curiosity, I read a bit more about Metta.  At the risk of oversimplifying an ancient religious practice, the Lovingkindness mediation generally is done in this way.  You always begins with yourself.  Next, you think of someone you love, then someone who you think about in a neutral way.  Followed by the hardest one – someone with whom you are in conflict.  The words of the meditation can be varied, but the words on the paper I was given capture the essence.  The purpose of the meditation is because, as Buddha said,

“Hatred cannot coexist with loving-kindness,

and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving-kindness.”

I love the idea that, even in the face of great evil, you CAN do something. Don’t think you are small and helpless. You, as an individual, can control your thoughts. You can turn them, at least for a few moments, away from fear and towards something positive instead.

***

A few weeks ago, I was in New York and found myself downtown near the new National September 11 Memorial.  I had half an hour before my next meeting, so I decided to check it out.

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Like most who remember that day thirteen years ago, September 11 will always be for me a day marked by pain and shock and suffering.  I don’t know what it is like to lose a loved one in a tragedy like the World Trade Center attack, but my son’s close call with Lyme disease gave me the smallest of inklings of what it is like to lose a loved one.  And it definitely gave me a sense of what it is like to experience unexpected danger that falls from a seemingly clear blue sky.   For me, September 11 is an annual reminder of the strident need we have for less violence and hatred in our world. And of how much we need more peace, more connection, more healing. More loving and more kindness.

I happened to have my laptop in my briefcase.  That little scrap of photocopied paper was still there, in the pocket of my laptop case, where it had been since we left the hospital more than a year ago.  I had never bothered to throw it away, but I had never taken it out either.  Now, at the September 11 Memorial, I sat down in the shade of a newly planted tree and took it out.

I closed my eyes and listened to the sound of the waterfalls, the low murmur of the crowd. I began with myself, followed by my son. I held, both in my thoughts and in my heart, the families of those who lost loved ones on that day.  Next came those who would purposefully harm innocent people.  Yes, even them.  It was hard, but I tried.  One thing I have learned from my work with the victims of human rights abuses is the power of forgiveness. 

And then I sent a lovingkindness blessing to our world.

 

 

 

 

 

(This post was written and edited as part of the Weekly Writing Challenge.)

The Meaning of Mandela

Mandela memorial painted on a building in Capetown, South Africa
Mandela memorial painted on a building in Cape Town, South Africa

When Nelson Mandela died last week, I was struck by the somewhat impersonal nature of the “continuous live” media coverage.  In the United States, I heard interviews with reactions from world leaders, I saw billboards with quotes from Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou about what Mandela meant to them.  We now, apparently, memorialize our greatest heroes in memes, soundbites on photos which we share and share again.    But what I really wanted to know was this:

“What are the people of South Africa feeling right now? How are they mourning the loss of the father of their nation?”

As it turns out,  my brother Jeremy is in Cape Town, South Africa.  He started sending back photos of the makeshift memorials that were springing up around the city. Touching tributes, both large and small, that showed the genuine love and respect felt for this man.   Jeremy is a professor of African history, so I asked him to share his thoughts about Nelson Mandela along with his photos.  

Rocked our World
Madiba You Rocked Our World

The Meaning of Mandela

by Jeremy Prestholdt

I arrived in South Africa a few hours after Nelson Mandela’s passing. The nation had only just begun mourning, but the way in which the former president had touched the lives of all South Africans was plain. From Soweto to Sandton, Cape Town, and Qunu, the outpouring of grief and appreciation was unlike anything I’d seen. While I knew that Mandela was revered, the deep respect for him that I’ve witnessed over the past days suggests that he was far more than a popular leader: he personified the myriad aspirations of South Africans.

Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize

As a professor of African history I often tell Mandela’s story. For decades Mandela was vilified as a terrorist. After he traveled to Algeria for military training, many in South Africa called for his execution. Rather than hanging Mandela, the Apartheid government tried to make him irrelevant by condemning him to a life of hard labor. During his nearly three decades in prison he became an icon in the struggle against white minority rule in Africa.

Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 was a watershed in the fight against Apartheid. Yet, it was his adroitness in navigating the path to national freedom that cemented his place in the hearts of all South Africans. Unlike most political leaders, Mandela had an extraordinary ability to balance justice with reconciliation. By drawing on this skill he accomplished what many deemed impossible: he steered a deeply divided and unequal society towards peace and greater freedom. For this Mandela earned universal appreciation as well as the title Tata (father of the nation), a word now on everyone’s lips in South Africa. It’s this deep appreciation for the father of the nation that is so evident here.

Mandela Flag

Though I’ve recounted Mandela’s history many times, joining South Africans during this period of mourning and remembrance has made me rethink the conclusion to the story that I will tell in future. The new ending will not be Mandela’s presidency or his death. Rather, it will be a reflection on what Mandela means to us now. South Africans–and mourners around the world–have demonstrated that, perhaps more than any other figure of our time, Mandela represents our collective aspirations for freedom, justice, and equality. In this he is more than a South African icon. He is a global symbol of human possibility.

Cards

All photo credits to Jeremy Prestholdt

Thank you so much, Jeremy, for writing this guest post!

The Grandeur of the Acropolis

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Columns of the Parthenon, which was built in the 5th century BC.

The Acropolis, perched on a rocky hilltop above the bustle of Athens, is one of the grandest historical sites that I have had to opportunity to visit.   I’m sharing a few photos from my 2012 visit in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Grand.  If you have never had the opportunity to experience the grandeur of the Acropolis, you can take a virtual tour here.  Happy Sunday!

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View of the Acropolis from the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Construction on this temple began in the 6th century BC.
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The porch of the Caryatids on the south side of the Erechtheion.

 

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The Sacred Olive Tree on the north side of the Erechteion.  It is said to be a descendant of the olive tree that Athena gave to the ancient Greeks, causing them to name their city “Athens” in her honor.  Every invader has cut it down, but every time someone has saved a sprig to replant later.

The Regular

Beauty's Special
Order up! Beauty’s Specials at Beauty’s Luncheonette in Montreal

“I’ve been coming here since the beginning,” he said conspiratorially, leaning towards me from the stool next to mine.

I had noticed the white haired gentleman earlier, as he was shouldering his way through the Sunday brunch crowd at Beauty’s Luncheonette.  He took a seat on the chrome-and-blue pleather stool next to me. As he carefully placed his folded Montreal Gazette on the formica countertop, he caught the server’s eye.  “Hi hon!” she sang out as she filled his coffee cup.

He didn’t even have to place his order.  In a matter of minutes, “the usual” was set in front of him.  Side of home fries, black coffee, and a Beauty’s Russian Black Special.  Most people who come to Beauty’s get the Beauty’s Special – smoked salmon, cream cheese, tomato, and onion on the infamous Montreal sesame bagel.  But The Regular clearly prefers the Special on on a Russian rye bread so black that  it looks like it is made of dark chocolate.

“You’ve been coming here since 1942?” I asked.

“Sure, I went to high school just down the street. I used to buy my school supplies here back when it was a stationary shop.   There was always a poker game going on back in the back room.”

He pointed towards an open door behind the kitchen to a small room where they now store the mops and brooms and cleaning supplies.  (You can see it in the background of the photo above.)

“They won’t tell you THAT in the history.”

He gestured vaguely towards the blue and white menu, which contains a detailed history of Beauty’s.  How newlyweds Hymie and Freda Sckolnick bought the shop on the corner of Mont Royal and St. Urbain and started serving lunch to the garment workers from the  factories in the neighborhood.  The name “Beauty” came from Hymie’s bowling nickname.  It grew so popular that the workers started bringing their families on the weekend.  “And the Montreal brunch was born,”  to quote the menu.  Indeed, there was no mention of the poker game in the back room.

“I’m in my 80s,” he confided, “so Hymie must be into his 90s.  You met him when you came in, right?”

I had indeed met Hymie.  He was guarding the door when we arrived – literally standing in the inner doorway and quizzing the groups of Montreal hipsters queued up outside.  Since we only had two in our party, we scored an immediate seating at the lunch counter. “I like American money,”  Hymie told me as he resettled, ever vigilant, on his perch by the door.

“Hymie opened up this morning,” The Regular told me.  “That’s the son, Larry.”  He waved dismissively at a white-haired man with black frame glasses who was dashing about with a pot of coffee. “He just showed up now.”

We talked for a few minutes.  He told me how he grew up to be a lawyer and a politician.  He represented the neighborhood for a number of years before returning to private practice.  He lives downtown now, but he made it very clear that he is not retired.

“What’s your practice area?” I asked.  Corporate, I thought.

“Immigration,” he said.  “There’s always work and it’s interesting.”

“I know,” I said.  “I’m a human rights lawyer at a non-profit, but I started out practicing asylum law.  We always look to Canada as the better asylum system.  Even now in the debate about immigration reform, we are using Canada as the example of why we should provide counsel for indigent asylum seekers.”

“Well,” he replied, “It was a hell of a lot better before the Conservatives took over.  Now I’m not sure we’re a model for anyone anymore.”

As he paid his bill and gathered up his car keys and his black leather gloves, he asked, “What are you going to do today?”

“We’re thinking of going up to the top of Mont-Royal.”

“Mount Royal?  How are you going to get there? Do you have a car?”

“No, we’re planning to bike,” I said.

He looked at me for a few seconds, as if assessing whether I was truly insane.  Then he moved on.

“Well, you’re going to want to go to Schwartz’s Deli, so here’s a tip. Don’t bother with the line.  Go across the street to Main Deli.  It’s just as good, but without the wait.   We call it “smoked meat” here.   There’s no such thing as “pastrami” here in Canada,” he said emphatically.

“Thanks for the tip,” I said.  As a vegetarian, my interest in cured meat – whatever you call it – is minimal.

It struck me later that, based on the facts that he dropped,  I could easily pin a name and full bio on this guy.  It would just take a couple of quick internet searches.  But I have not chosen to do that.

As he said good-bye, I felt I had been privileged with a small glimpse into not just a life, but also into a unique time and place and people in this city’s history.  I saw in a flash the habits of a lifetime, traces of a distinctive community.  The institution of Beauty’s Luncheonette will certainly continue, but someday in the relatively near future it will be without Hymie and the others who were there from the beginning.  On this, my first visit to Montreal, The Regular had given me a rare, small gift.

He put on his long, black wool coat and headed for the door, threading his way through throngs of young people – young people  of all races and backgrounds, chatting energetically and switching effortlessly between French and English.  In the midst of this microcosm of contemporary Montreal, The Regular turned back, eyes twinkling, and winked at me.

“My wife is in Florida.  Don’t tell her I was here.”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination

It’s been pretty quiet over here on The Human Rights Warrior.  I’ve got a long trip coming up soon, so haven’t had much time to devote to non-essentials (sadly, that includes blogging).  I felt I just had to respond, however, to the Weekly Photo Challenge with some of the images and words that mean “Illumination” to me.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.  -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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On July 3, 1776, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail about how future generations of Americans should celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence:

It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Le respect, c’est accepter quelqu’un même si on ne l’aime pas. Respect is accepting someone even if you don’t like him. (Discovered this on the wall of a school in the Pâquis neighborhood in Geneva, Switzerland)

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It’s been a long, a long time coming.

But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will.

– Sam Cooke

Sun after storm in the Sandwich Ridge mountains, New Hampshire
The sun comes out after a storm in the Sandwich Range, New Hampshire