Every year, I vow that I am not going to watch or listen to any coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and every year, I break that vow. I am inexplicably drawn to the stories and images of that day, much like I was when I found myself transfixed in front of the television 15 years ago. As I watched in horror as the North Tower and the South Tower of the World Trade Center crumbled before my eyes, I also saw the world as we know it disappear into the rubble, as well. Nothing has been the same. Nothing ever will be the same.
In the days and weeks of uncertainty and fear that followed that day, I found myself finding comfort and solace in the stories that rose from the ashes. The bravery of the first responders who rushed into the carnage, as others fled it. The extraordinary heroism of ordinary citizens, such as the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 who fought back against the hijackers. The selfless acts of people across the country and around the world who offered aid, donated blood, sent supplies, and volunteered in countless ways in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. to mourn the dead, comfort the wounded, and begin to heal our nation.
The months that followed 9/11 were awash in patriotism, kindness, and compassion that I had never witnessed before and have not seen since then. In the midst of chaos and violence, somehow, the diverse citizens who make up the fabric of our country band together to truly become these United States of America. As the buildings came down, we worked to build each other up and rebuild what had been destroyed, both literally and figuratively. We had identified a common enemy to defeat together, and together, we were one.
Then, just as we tend to put some public figures up on lofty pedestals, only to knock them off in rapid succession, we began to knock each other down to size. We pointed fingers at the very people we had been cheering as our fearless leaders. We suspected the strangers we had befriended in the aftermath of being capable of carrying out future terrorist attacks. We wrapped ourselves in our individual definitions of patriotism and retreated to segregated political and religious camps, declaring our particular party, candidate, or religion to be what’s best for America. United we stood, divided we fell.
Although we continue to fight terrorism at home and abroad, there are days when I think that we have become our own worst enemy. The vitriol that is spewed across social media outlets. The inflammatory speeches of political leaders and candidates alike. The casual way we toss around hate-filled comments in private and not-so-private conversations all in the name of proving a point, our point. This has escalated to a level of negativity that I would have thought impossible to reach following 9/11. But we did.
I always have taught my daughters that hurt people hurt people Perhaps, the crack in our nation’s foundation has widened as the result of a still hurting and grieving nation, so, we have turned on each other. We are fighting terrorism and, seemingly, each other, leaving me to wonder whether either fight can be won. And if so, how? When? Victory at what cost? Does anyone ever really win?
The night of 9/11, as I tried to quiet my mind to get some sleep before my 4-month old daughter demanded a middle of the night audience with me, I remember fervently wishing that everything would return to normal. The events of 9/11 were a mere 12 hours old, and I already longed for life before 8:46 a.m. Of course, that desperate wish did not come true, and I find myself now wishing that we could all unite to stand strong against the threats from outside sources and the threats from within.
I fear, though, that this wish also will not become a reality, as the division among races, sexes, religions, and political parties seems to grow, with no signs of stopping. I am not naïve enough to believe that we all just need to hug it out or hold hands and sing a song of peace, although, perhaps, we should.
In light of the 9/11 anniversary, perhaps, we can all take stock of our individual words and actions and how they either fan the flames of hate and negativity or ignite the spark for growth and healing. Maybe, we can think back to 9/12/01, when we woke up shaken and scared, but with a steely resolve that we would not let all those who died the day before die in vain. We wanted to be better. We wanted to do better. And so we found individual and collective ways to do both.
In some ways, 9/11 brought out the best of us, and then, we stumbled and lost our way. Being a good citizen means more than wrapping yourself in the flag and chanting, USA. It means that we stand up for each other and our individual beliefs and rights without standing on the necks of others to disrespect their opposing views or deny them their inalienable rights. It means that we have an open, honest, and sometimes, difficult dialogue with those who differ from us without resorting to bullying, name calling, and threatening as acceptable forms of discourse. It means that we help each other through volunteer work, random acts of kindness, activism, and compassion. It means that we become part of the solution, rather than the perpetrator of the problem. It means all of these things and so much more.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story