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  • Leslie Juvin-Acker

The Greatest Enemy - A Short STory

I will never forget the last time I felt the heat of the sun on my dark brown skin.

People take for granted how it feels to be under the sun. The seeming insignificance of just being touched by the sun. To be touched signifies the merging of realities and energies. We feel something outside of our own consciousness and, by feeling it, we merge with it and come to know it.

It was just before lunch time. I was beginning to feel the pangs of hunger in my abdomen. I looked forward to going home to my father where we owned a family bakery. Everyday, he smiled a big, bright smile. His skin a tint lighter than mine, a reddish brown. When he smiled, his brown face turned bright with the contrast of his wide eyes and smile. That face always gave me a sense of warmth and fed my soul.

I never got to see him again. The thought of his smile was the last thought I had just before the blast. I could feel the heat before I felt the blast of rubble - brick, metal, and glass - that was, at one time, an American consulate building.

I always walked in front of that consulate building. It gave me a sense of security. The armed American guards standing in front of the main doorway signified strength. I felt that they were my bodyguards when I walked by. I felt important as I passed.

In an instant, my life was over. I didn't feel a thing. By the time they found me, I was already gone, buried beneath the remnants of the seemingly impenetrable American building. It's funny how the brand of America makes foreigners think that.

I wasn't the only one who died. Their souls wandered the rubble. They thought they were alive. They were screaming, shouting for others, wandering the remains looking for their friends and colleagues. It was if they believed that they missed the blast and arrived to the scene. They didn't realize that they survived it - just not physically.

The dust was everywhere. It made it hard to tell who was living and who was only alive in spirit.

Sometimes the shock of a situation seems to make the moment last longer than it has to. It felt like I was watching the scene for an eternity. It amazed me to see how, even in death, humans just want help.

After a moment, my mind turned away from the carnage and I kept going to see my father at the bakery.

He was not there. The shop was empty. He never leaves it empty.

In the moment of wondering where he was, I was immediately taken to him. He heard the blast and ran to look for me. I could read his mind. He was hoping that I was alive. And, at worst, hoped that I had survived. He always feared that I would be taken from him. What happened that day was his worst fear come alive.

No parent ever wants to lose their child. Especially their favorite child. Not that my dad loved my siblings any less, it's just that we shared a bond and special connection. We both shared a love for the Koran and shared a love of the unity of Allah. We shared a love for the singing; the songs hypnotically sung in Arabic at the rise and call for prayers. We never thought of ourselves as religious. We thought of ourselves as believers.

I wish for the non-Muslim world to understand how it feels to be a believer. We do not look for ways to kill our neighbors. Although we do not look to convert them to the faith through proselytizing we actively seek to convert through action and example. Just as the Christian faith seeks to food the hungry with bread, we seek to feed the spiritually and morally hungry with the bread of faith. I just wish that people could understand that the actions of a few who call themselves "clerics" are just re-branding their totalitarian ideology with religious authority. It's just the same as any of the despotic leaders looking for something to lean on when they don't have a sound and logical argument and when their actions do not match their words.

But that's besides the point. We were killed by "our own": Religious fanatics who wouldn't know the meaning of spirituality if it slapped them on the face. They were not the true believers of Allah; their god is Destruction.

When my father, brother, and sisters came to terms with the fact that I had perished as a result of the explosion, I once again turned my attention to my mother. That's when she came to me.

She died in a fire when I was small. Our home did not have electricity. We had kerosene lamps and candles. It's amazing how fast a kitchen fire can spread and how slow people are to escape. She and my little brother died. He was just a fat, little toddler. They were consumed by the fumes by the time the neighbors could bring enough water to stop the fire. I lived my life wishing that she had not tried to stop the fire herself. I wish that she just ran out of there and survived. But she was too afraid to lose everything and start over. She believed that what you start out with in life is all you have and you have to do everything you can to preserve it. She wasn't a believer that Allah provides all to his believers. She lost her life because she was afraid of losing.

She took me by the hand. My brother was with her, too, but he had grown in spirit. He was a young man. They told me that they had stayed behind to wait for me, for it was my time to pass.

I did not understand why it was my time to pass, but she explained that I had chosen it. Not before I was born, she said, but before it was my time. She said I had to remember what I did to select that moment and that reason.

There was an error, I thought. For, I thought that I would be given eternal life as long as I believed. But, I was wrong. She said I could not have eternal life in a physical being, I could only transcend it. My mind swirled with this new understanding. We stood in this place of contemplation for what felt like forever, but it was just for only a moment.

What on Earth would make me want to die in a terrorist attack? I did not want to die for my faith. I only wanted to live for it. I did not want to lose my father. I had many reasons to stay alive. But, my mother said otherwise. She said those activities were merely distractions that filled my days. Humans are good at doing that, she explained.

She seemed like she had grown in understanding on this other side.

In my case, she explained, I had to deliver. I did not feel like I had accomplished much during my life. I was just getting started. I was barely 25. How could I deliver anything considering the circumstances? Now, I felt it was too late.

She was persistent in me remembering why I had chosen to die. She could, although was unwilling, to give me the answer. She gave me all the time I needed to figure it out.

And then it hit me. I had to deliver something to someone before I went back home for lunch. I had gone to the market stalls to get food. I had the bags in my hand. Two of them. I had to stop to my neighbor, an elderly arab lady, to bring her food and supplies in her pantry. She had no sons and counted on me as a daughter. She did not have money to pay me, but our faith required us to perform acts of charity. I selected this woman to serve.

How did this lead to me dying, you ask? It's simple and very clear.

This woman prayed for my protection. She thanked Allah for bringing me to her and asked Allah to watch over me. She and I both knew there were religious factions warring in the region. She stayed mostly at home for fear of getting caught in the cross-fire. Like gangs fighting over for turf, these groups fought over moral domination. They did not know how to live free, how can they expect, or even allow, others do to so?

She worried for my safety. I felt that I had gone largely unnoticed because of the head scarf I wore on my head. I thought, since I am Muslim and dress modestly, then I would not be a target for these warring factions. I could blend in and not be a target for discrimination or violence. I did not realize that the American embassy I passed in front of nearly every day made me an unintended target. Without knowing it, my acceptance of the American presence as part of co-existing in tolerance, put me in the crossfire of targeted aggression.

But walking in front of the embassy was not the reason I died. Being collateral damage did not kill me. Believing that I was not safe was what ended my life on earth.

I approached my life from the premise that life was not safe. My mother died in a fire. I did not learn that it was her fear of loss that consumed her and my brother's life. My brother passed with her because he approached life with the premise that he could not live without her. I lived my life worrying about the hidden and unexpected dangers of life. I accepted that my environment was dangerous. I conformed my mind to work around these dangers: be careful, think twice, and take the safest routes.

That's why I walked in front of the embassy that day. That's why I hoped that the American presence, even for the few seconds that I walked in front of that building, would protect me.That's why the old woman prayed for my protection because she, too, believed that life was not safe - not even amongst our own kind.

Allah was not punishing me. I did this to myself. Unwittingly. It almost seems unfair that Allah would allow this. But our writings say, "Fear your sins more than you fear the enemy as your sins are more dangerous to you than your enemy."

My sin was giving power to insecurity, danger, and destruction over my life. The circumstances of my life formed according to my faith. I falsely believed that hiding and depending on others to protect me would extend my life. I was wrong. We were all wrong. I believed that Allah would protect me from life's dangers, but I also believed that life was dangerous. I did not believe that Allah made my life safe. And because, all of us as humans, operate our lives from the premise that is life is not safe, we either preemptively strike - such in the case of the circumstances in which I die, or we hide and hope to go undetected, living life safe, but never fully living.

I put myself in danger out of my own fear and attitude towards life. I didn't have to die that day, but I had to eventually become aware of this lesson. Again, it seems wholly unfair that Allah would let me die, but the Allah we know is not the Allah we are.

I am at peace knowing that I have transmitted this message to you. It did not hurt to die. I do not regret dying that day. I lost my life as I had lived it. That is a message we all must understand. You Americans say, "You get out what you put in". That is God's truth.

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