Minnesotans stand together in memory of Sept. 11by Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — When Minnesotans stood up to sing "America the Beautiful" at Sunday's Sept. 11, 2011 memorial it wasn't a moment of mourning. The mood was one of pride and strength.
Minnesotans marked the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks Sunday in big and small ways.
Some placed flowers and notes on the steps of their local church. Many Muslim groups held open houses. And one of the biggest events was at the State Capitol, where political and spiritual leaders took turns at the podium.
The event ended with the crowd singing along with Sheila Raye Charles, daughter of Ray Charles.
Barb and Ron Eagan of Chisago stood among the crowd at the Capitol, each holding one end of a flag with a black background and white figures of a pentagon, four planes, and two tall rectangles.
"It represents everything that was involved in 9/11," Ron Eagan said. "The Pentagon, the four airplanes and the twin towers."
Ron Eagan explained that their children, Tiffany and Ron Jr., had created the flag in the days after the attacks. They were 10 and 13 at the time, and were trying to find their own way of understanding what happened.
At first, Barb Eagan said they questioned why someone would hate America so much. She tried to answer without mentioning anything about religion. Over the next several years their questions grew more complex, she said.
"One question that came up with my daughter was 'Mom, am I safe when I travel away from home?' You should have to reassure them that you always have to feel safe but be aware of what's going around and be cautious."
Over the last decade Americans have struggled to learn that balance. Army Major Ann Chilson said events like the one at the Capitol reassure her that citizens honor both civil liberties and the people who keep them safe.
"Now we live in a new paradigm that as Americans we still want to live free and that that freedom was altered a little bit by having to compromise to stay safe," Chilson said. "And so it's a new way of living, but we still want to live free above all. And that's I think, that's what we represent."
Chilson wore fatigues and stood a little apart from the crowd to the west of the Capitol building. On the opposite side of the building, Abdi Raishid Isse - who moved to the U.S. from Somalia in 1997 - recalled that before the Sept. 11 attacks, he didn't know about Osama bin Laden, al-Queda, or even the Twin Towers. After the attacks, Isse became self-conscious about being Muslim. He thought people would assume he was a threat.
"I was scared. Who is looking after you, someone is looking for you," Isse said. "I say 'I haven't done anything, I'm not doing anything bad, so why am I scaring.' "
After 10 years, Isse said he trusts his fellow Americans again.
Closer to the Capitol steps, Ali Maruf, 17, sat in the shade of a tree. The Somali refugee said he hasn't experienced discrimination since 9/11. But, rubbing his chin, Maruf said that might change soon. He said he's trying to grow his beard long.
"I'm trying to get more religious and have faith. because Islam is the right way, and I think that's a good thing," Maruf said. "I feel like people should look at me and say that guy is really religious and really fearing of his God."
Maruf said Americans need that kind of positive example. Sitting a few feet away on the grass, his friend Gracelynn Miller agreed.
"I encounter a lot of people that still blame Muslims and it's kind of disheartening. I feel like even if someone did blame Islam, maybe after 10 years it's time to stop," she said.
Miller was in second grade when the planes hit the Twin Towers and she has a hard time remembering what it was like before then. She said it seems like people have been trying to come to terms with 9/11 her whole life.
"It would be kind of a tragedy if in five years, 9/11 is reduced to a day we have off of school," Miller said. "But in some ways, it's like 'When will the mourning stop? Will it ever stop?' "
There was no answer among the speeches. But as Sheila Raye Charles ended the event with a version of America the Beautiful arranged by her father, Ray Charles, the crowd stood up and sang along, and it didn't seem like mourning. The mood was one of pride and strength.
- Morning Edition, 09/12/2011, 7:20 a.m.