On September 11, 2001, as the center of the universe lost its pulse for a minute, I baked an orange coffee cake.
I was getting ready to go to Hana's house for our weekly lesson. Hana, my friend and student, was a young Muslim mother from Iraq and a refugee to the United States; I was her ESL teacher.
Baking a cake was all I could think of to do. Frankly, it was the only thing I had all the ingredients to bake. (How do I offer some comfort, I wondered? Is there protocol for the world falling apart?) I pilfered around for orange peel. I pulled the cake from the oven--maybe a moment too soon. Oven off and towers down, I rushed to Hanna's. I never did find orange peel.
We spent the remainder of the morning watching the news, side by side, on her couch. I want to remember us huddled together, holding on to one another--Christian and Muslim, American and Middle Easterner, mothers, sisters, daughters--but I think we probably just sat sort-of close to each other. Our young daughters were playing with toys. We shared a slice of coffee cake and Hana offered something to drink. We shared a lot more than that, too. She was afraid for her family in Iraq, who like so many, had suffered under Saddam Hussein. I wondered silently what it was like for her husband at work that day. I was struck by her gratitude to be in the U.S., despite the distance it put between she and her family left in Iraq. We mourned the losses unfolding in front of us.
In the coming years I would remember Hanna and that morning spent on her sofa. When people talk about what they were doing when the towers fell, I remember, too. I think about how significant it is to me that, on a day that served to create division and ineffable pain, community happened--on the edge of a sofa, over a slice of orange coffee cake, while our very futures played together on the floor.