Ten years ago, 9/11 was a tragedy for millions of people. For me. I’m not so sure anymore.

In ancient Greece, tragedy originally meant a prize for a winning player. The competition was a ritual of song and dance performed for the god Dionysus and the festivities culminated in an animal sacrifice. Euphoria, blood, win and loss were inextricably intertwined.

Most of us know tragedy from drama- a form of parable in which a hero is afflicted with misfortune or plagued by a villain but who must overcome the conflict presented to him and either emerge victorious or die gloriously. Growing up, I had found the classic drama perplexing: the choice of hero and the distinction between the protagonist and antagonist seemed arbitrary. After all, who is deciding who deserves to win? Why does one get to benefit at the expense of the other?

I’m much older now but I still do not understand the many ways in which tragedy truly affects our lives. I do know that birth and death are not poles at the end of a spectrum but points in an endlessly regenerative circle. Every end is the start of a beginning and every beginning is the last chapter of an end. When I moved to Pakistan for my photojournalism work in 2002, there was nothing clearer in my mind than the atrocity of 9/11 but I still desired to understand another side of it. I wanted to understand what it meant in the other side of the world. What I did not know that it would end up meaning something different for myself.

I often think about whether I would have met my husband, Zayn, if 9/11 had not happened and I hadn’t decided to become a foreign correspondent in Pakistan. Was it a mere coincidence that we met where we met? Is it narcissistic for me to develop a causal relationship between a mass tragedy and a personal fortune?  Could I really have benefited, if indirectly, from the aftermath of an event that meant the loss of lives and loved ones for thousands of others?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. What I do know is that loss creates space for something new to begin and something else to be won. No matter what the sacrifice was, I am not sorry for what I have gained.


I am an American photojournalist. I have spent the last twelve years working in Pakistan’s post 9/11 landscape. My collection of photoessays will be published as a book later this year by Turner Media. You can follow me on this blog to see/read more of my work and get updates on my book!