Beth Murphy’s warm and uplifting documentary Beyond Belief follows two women’s ability to transform the shattering events of 9/11 into a message of hope.
Susan Retik and Patti Quigley, upper middle class, pregnant New England soccer moms lost their husbands in 9/11. Introduced by mutual friends, they formed a fast friendship and through their conversations realized that they could make a difference for other widows: The war widows in Afghanistan, women whose lives were far worse than their own because of poverty and injustice. That inspired a fund-raising bike ride from Ground Zero in New York to Boston and eventually a life altering trip to Afghanistan to meet the women whose lives they directly impacted.
Murphy balances scenes of Susan and Patti’s life and their coping with their children and the organization they founded, Beyond 9/11, against interviews with Afghan widows describing their lives and their understanding of the events of September 11, 2001.
As Susan points out, none of the hijackers came from Afghanistan though they trained there. And yet Afghanistan has been the focus of a current and escalating war, and ongoing wars over decades, which have left an estimated 500,000 widows (and their children) in abject poverty; the income of family without a husband drops from an average of $46 a month to $16 a month, not enough to cover the cost of food, school and shelter, creating a cycle of poverty where violence and terrorism can flourish.
The funds raised by Patti and Susan go to buy chickens, egg incubators, and chicken feed so that the women can sell eggs and chickens to support their families. Inspired by aid workers, notably Clementina Cantoni of CARE International, Patti and Susan explore the idea of leaving their families for over a week to travel to Kabul, struggling with their fears, only to learn Cantoni has been kidnapped.
Cantoni‘s safe release –spurred in part by protests from Afghani widows– reignites their plans for travel. Over the months, their lives have changed: Susan has a boyfriend and Patti is struggling to define herself as more than a 9/11 widow. Their trip to Kabul further changes how they view the world as they meet a victim of an American rocket attack and see how the funds they have raised are positively impacting the widows there.
Beyond Belief shows how two ordinary women become extraordinary by dealing with their unimaginable sorrow, and how by stepping beyond their own grief they have transformed the lives of hundreds of women and children and made a hopeful step towards rectifying great wrongs which left them and thousands of women widowed.