I lit a candle this morning and i prayed to God, silently, for heroes, for America, for all of us.
On this day in 2001 i had just returned from China, was watching a movie and getting ready to hit off to the gym… when they started broadcasting the tragedy.
I was taken aback. My mother said: oh, this must be a movie!
I knew it, somewhere deep down, i felt that spasm in my stomach which told me that, sadly, this is for real.
Let me tell you what America means to me – beyond being a country where many people i love – live.
For an European intellectual – and an American intellectual as well, it’s rather customary to express certain cynicism when it comes to politics, especially to the politics of the only remaining super power (us having grown up under the threat of the other.)
As a linguist and as a writer – i use words as my primary tool of expression, as that very bridge through which i communicate with the world.
English language, which i started learning quite late in life, opened my mind for patterns of thought which were unknown to me in the culture into which i was born – and which i haven’t known in the cultures where we lived, which languages i learned.
It’s the language – its richness, its warmth and its genuine, innate positivity that opened up my heart in the beginning.
I wanted to learn more about the people who spoke that language.
As my own country, former Yugoslavia, started to fall apart, my own identity did too; it turned out i belonged to a people, Yugoslavs, who instantly went extinct , i remained without a citizenship, without cultural identity and even my mother tongue was not called the same any more.
As the remnants of former Yugoslavia were buried deeper and deeper, with them went down the communist system of values into which we were raised.
I turned to my Jewish roots to find meaning and personal salvation. It’s there that i understood what essential role US had played in the Jewish battle for survival.
I had studied literature under different system, so it’s later on in life that i came to Kerouac, Carver and Ginsberg – and they have moved my world and shifted my perception.
The movies, the music – the more i learned about the culture, the more i loved its people and identified with them.
Whichever interest i’ve developed – Kabbalah, Tarot, and even Chinese Philosophy – it turned out that i was looking in the direction of US – first Kabbalah Center, outside Jerusalem, opened in US and my teacher was there; people who wrote books on Tarot, from whom i learned – were there too, and even intellectuals from whom i was learning Chinese thought – were in US as well.
During the Balkan wars, my father being a dissident, we sought refuge in Montenegro, where his side of family originates from; during 1990ies every single thinking Montenegrin understood that we have to regain state independence in order to reclaim our history that once was honorable – and in order to break out of the predominant back then Balkan hate for no reason.
In 2006, after years of struggle , Montenegro is free and independent – for which , i dare to say, political support of US administration, and thus, American people – was one of the main factors that made it come true.
Thus, on this day, eleven years ago, it was not some country overseas that was attacked. It was me and my own life that was attacked.
In my personal history, i had died once, when Yugoslavia died – was it a fake construct all together, did it turn out for the best at the end of things – i wouldn’t know, but i was too young then to have any relevant influence and for my voice to be heard.
Two decades later, the world has changed, my own life changed and grew in a direction of which i never guessed, i didn’t plan on becoming who i am today, it happened… But, big part of it, big part of who i personally am is forever intertwined with American people.
So, i stand with you today and always with my soul and with my life and i say, in one voice with you: ALWAYS REMEMBER. NEVER FORGET.
Lena Ruth Stefanovic
note: this essay was written last year, on the same day… dates were changed accordingly, but nothing changed in my heart, nothing ever will.