Yesterday, I was in the process of composing another 9/11 post, American flag and sense of patriotism both in tact. As I started to reflect on the events of that day in 2001 – the balls of flames that were once passenger airlines, the images of people jumping to the deaths, the sounds of the desperate phone calls over the switchboards, and the terrified, helpless looks of the people on the ground, I was prepared to do another tribute to the moment. I was also prepared to talk about how we, as a nation, rallied around this tragedy to become that “more perfect union”, I once heard about it.
Then, reality hit.
The reality that our President and First Lady have been disrespected and denigrated to a degree never before seen in American political history started to surface. The reality that political rhetoric, threats, and actual acts of violence are on the rise came to the surface. The reality that people in this country are hell-bent on passing laws designed to thwart people’s right to vote came to the surface. The reality that a woman’s reproductive rights are systematically being stripped and the reality that we have gotten to a point in political discourse where we are making a distinction between what kind of rapes are “legitimate” came to the surface. The reality that our homosexual brothers and sisters are being treated like second-class citizens came to the surface. The reality that the wealthy are hoarding their riches more than ever before while poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and economic nihilism are on the rise came to surface. The reality of vile and vicious mud-slinging campaigns on both sides came to the surface.
The fact is: the unified America we were honoring and celebrating on Sept 12, 2001 isn’t the same one we see on Sept 12, 2013. Soooo, what exactly should I be honoring?
We have taken the tragedy of September 11th and turned it into a day of disingenuous commemoration. We have taken a day where thousands of people lost their lives either as victims or as heroes and have turned it into a day where we act as if we are on a united front. But immediately afterwards, we go back to being the same rotten people we were on September 10th.
If we really honored those who fell on that horrible day and we truly appreciated the magnitude of our unity, the changes in our day-to-day lives would be considerably more evident. Sure, we have seen increased security and our military muscles have been flexed in a way we haven’t seen before. But, as a country, we haven’t improved. If anything, we’ve taken steps backwards.
Like most people who have experienced an historical event, I can remember exactly what I was doing on 9/11. I remember being on campus watching the second plane crash, knowing we were under attack. I remember a group of students, staff, and faculty all grabbing hands, hugging each other, and sharing tears that came from the same feeling of fear, sadness, and vulnerability. We didn’t ask each other about our religious affiliations [Important side note: our Muslim (and other brown) brothers and sisters were probably the key exception here. They were never able to share in this unity, since they were subjected to the most vicious post-9/11 attacks], our sexual orientations, our income levels, or our education. We came together…on one accord. We were a nation. Though we were rooted in fear, vigilance, and retaliation, we also had a renewed mind toward one another. We just seemed friendlier. We were more gracious. More charitable.
But all of that was short-lived. What we see today is nothing like what we were then. that didn’t last.
To me, September 11th is analogous to church service. We assemble together, sing the same songs, hold hands, smile at one another, and generally possess a “feel good” sentiment (of course, there are exceptions. Some people are even sour pusses at church. But I digress). Once we leave church, it’s back to the rotten life we had before we got there. It’s a rather pathetic sight.
I’m sorry if this post lacks the encouragement, uplift, and inspiration we’re supposed to see in a 9/11 tribute. But frankly, my opinions are largely informed by and reflective of what I’m seeing around me. It’s my prayer that we won’t need another 9/11 to remind us how to be Americans.