Laura Meister, Chicago

Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.

Chicago, Illinois

Laura Elizabeth Meister has a sharp wit … and a heart of gold. The 25-year-old was born in Bettendorf, Iowa, but was raised in Littleton, Colorado, and Sylvania, Ohio. Today, she lives in Chicago, where she manages a small business in a quiet northern suburb. As for her family, just the “standard”: Mom and dad, who are “continuing to keep the home fires burning”; brother, who is currently working in Geneva, Switzerland; and two sisters, who are both attending Laura’s alma mater, Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Laura’s interests include art, books, people and running the Chicago Marathon. Laura was raised Lutheran but considers herself more of a Christian neutral. Nowadays, she just prays for hope.

On Sept. 11, Laura woke up to a report on National Public Radio that a plane had just hit one of the towers. “Got into the shower thinking bummer about that Cessna, hope not too many people were hurt. Exited the shower to news that a second plane had hit the second tower … Turned on the TV to see hell.” All of Laura’s friends who work downtown – including her roommate – stayed home. Laura went to work, but fielded desperate calls from family members concerned about Chicago being the next target.

Since Sept. 11, Laura says she has become increasingly critical of the media and especially wonders why a two-minute tape showing “celebrating Palestenians” can be used to describe an entire ethnicity of people. She’s also been crying a lot. “Anything remotely sad turns on the waterworks. Particularly stories of heroism, sacrifice and honor… Not cheesy love stories, which previously were fodder for my tears.” Laura wrote her essay in early October.

September 11 left me trembling in front of the TV with empathetic terror clutching my heart. I thought of all the people strapped in their coach seats, casually sipping coffee and chatting with friends near the water cooler.

And then, someone ruined it all. Left lives to suffer – trapped and waiting to die.

My conservative, WASP (White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant) upbringing currently competes with my college-grown liberalism. I don’t want war. I don’t want continued suffering through over-retaliation. Many friends and friends’ lovers, mates and significants are bound to the military by profession, and I can’t bear the thought of any loss.

Yet, kill these bastards. I don’t want my life to change and it has.

So where terror once ruled my thoughts, fear and uncertainty now reign.

Since I was young, the national anthem has always sent chills through my body – I’m a sucker for a cause. However, I always kept my national pride as sort of a shameful secret. I’m friends with amazing people who have experienced life outside of these manifest-destined boundaries. Friends who maybe have been taught to question what their parents taught them – to question what the norm believes. These friends made me realize that this is far from a perfect country. But now, my heart swells with pride at the sight of flags everywhere – even seeing the Chicago city flag sends chills down my arms, around my heart. I want to scream at all the doubters, “Yes! We aren’t a perfect country, but what else would you want? Where else is better than this?”

Then again, there has to be something better than this, right? A place that doesn’t inspire needless hate …

I guess my response to this is confusion – definitely confusion. And not the type of confusion that says, “Fill in ‘C.’ That may be the right answer.” But the kind of confusion that I know has no answer. And the kind that I have no control over.

The events of today will subject my friends and family to danger, and we are all powerless to affect our outcomes.

Right now, so many people I love are far away – my brother in Switzerland (neutral, so he’s safe right? Ooops … he’s interning with the United Nations … what if they do something to piss them off?); you, Jen, in Indiana; my best friend Lea in San Francisco; Jeff and Betsy in Mississippi.

The list is endless … and the worry worse.



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