GUEST COMMENTARY: Sept. 11 expanded my world and my family

Thursday, September 8, 2011 | 5:52 p.m. CDT; updated 12:02 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 9, 2011
Kebede and her family chose Bhailu's birthday to be Sept. 11, the same day they welcomed him into their home. It turned a day of terror, into one of joy.

Sept. 11 anniversaries always catch me off guard. It’s a day I generally try to avoid thinking about.

I was in sixth grade in northern Virginia, where many government employees commute to D.C., including the Pentagon. My naive mind could sense the weight of the attacks, though I couldn’t have possibly imagined how that day would shape the future of the country I passively learned about in social studies.

But this year, I’ve eagerly anticipated Sept. 11. It marks a year since my parents brought my kid brother home to the United States from Ethiopia, four days after they officially completed his adoption papers.

Sept. 11 is also the birth date chosen for him (since he did not have a birth certificate) because it happened to be the same day as the Ethiopian New Year.

When he was 4 years old, the only parent he had, his mother (my first cousin) died from liver complications. After that, he and four older siblings moved in with my paternal aunt, who is in her 70s.

After prayer and much consideration, my empty-nester parents graciously offered their home to the youngest, whose name they learned is Bhailu, which translates to “by His power.”

Oddly enough, even amid the extreme joy of expanding our family, the magnitude of fear I felt on Sept. 11, 2001, came rushing back. I could sense the mounting responsibility we were taking on, but I couldn’t imagine how this adoption would alter the next few years and beyond.

He was coming from a brief yet heavy past with no English skills and no prior knowledge of our family. The adjustment would be complicated.

On Sept. 11, 2010, the day my parents were expected to return to their home in Virginia with Bhailu, I kept my phone within arm’s reach, at its highest volume, so I would be ready to pounce at the first sound. I tried to busy myself with homework and walks around MU, but the anticipation wouldn’t go away.

When they finally called and gave the phone to Bhailu, I wasn’t sure what to say. The only words he knew were the greetings my parents had taught him since meeting him three weeks prior.

When I heard his shy, high-pitched voice, I melted. All the awkward questions from social workers, my paperwork as an “adult in the household” and helping my mom paint my old room for him suddenly were insignificant.

The fears were still there, but now I knew he would be worth any sacrifice.

Soon after, he was enrolled in first grade at my “alma mater” with a supplemental ESL class and more schooling from my mom when he got home.

By the end of the school year, he was recognized as a top reader and had many friends in his class. His bubbly personality helped, but his friends have been raised in a place where cultural diversity is treasured, despite the extra work to understand one another.

Bhailu will learn for the first time this week about the tragedy that shares the day of his birthday and anniversary of joining our family.

Sept. 11 certainly brought the U.S. head-to-head with religious diversity and forced Americans to challenge our opinions of Islam and Muslims. But let’s not forget how that day unified a grieving nation mixed with hundreds of cultures.

There’s plenty of similarities we share as humans. We only have to be persistent and brave enough to find them.

Laura Kebede is a senior at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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