(In lieu of the gravity of this day, this post does speak a little about politics of the past, and a little from today. It simply cannot be avoided in discussions about this day. You've been warned.)
Well. It's the 11th day of the 9th month again. 9/11. Now also known as Patriot Day. Most Americans who were at least seven or eight years old on that day back in 2001 probably remember exactly where they were when the planes hit the towers, the Pentagon, the field near Shanksville.
I remember walking during my lunch break and seeing the strangely empty sky. Thinking that the world was about to change in pretty drastic ways. And if not the world, than at least the US.
I got home that evening and brought in my American flag - then the only one flying on the block, and one of a few in the entire neighborhood. Other flags were flying, of course. Garden flags of leaves and rainbows, college or pro football team flags or colorful welcome flags. But very few American flags. I had Kraft mac and cheese for supper, and sat on my couch with Shoba, watching the TV in disbelief. I didn't go to bed until late, and even then had pangs of worry about the future. My last thoughts of the day were to check in with the Marines to see if I could or should re-enlist. Or maybe go into the Navy as a medic. (But only if I could be guaranteed assignment with a USMC unit, of course).
I remember everything I did that day. As does everyone else.
Not a problem.
But unlike a great many of my fellow citizens, I also won't forget the next few days, weeks and months. How suddenly my lonely American flag was not alone fluttering in the breeze. Within a week nearly every house had an American flag flying.
How the Congress, both Dems and Republicans gathered on the Capitol steps to sing "God Bless America". The feeling of solidarity regardless of political views, religious views, sexuality. The country seemed to come together, and even I - who thought that George Bush was the wrong choice for a President - stood behind him as he called for all Americans to stand strong and stand together, and we would get through this crisis together as a country. We would be stronger on the other side for our unity, and maybe the world could be a better place.
We all stood with the New Yorkers, with the families that lost members. We all wondered why. And the answers came slowly but surely.
And as we got answers, I remember that something else started happening.
I heard of back lashes against Muslim people, communities and places of worship. I saw anger and hatred of those who were different start to rear its ugly head. I heard songs on the radio about how the USA is the greatest and we'd have to kill the bad guys, songs filled with hatred and sung to whip up the hatred of the "enemy" when the enemy was very undefined. I watched religious and political extremism bloom in response to an act of religious and political extremism. "Let's Roll" went from being a call of hope, courage and sacrifice, to a battle cry to attack, attack, attack! Hate and Attack. It was a sad, sad time.
I watched as a President, who had an amazing opportunity to bridge political gaps that had been widening for years, instead drive wedges into the gaps. Then threw dynamite into the chasms to widen them further still.
When I was a paramedic, it seldom failed to amaze me that when we arrived on scene, no matter how chaotic, bloody, life threatening... whatever was happening, our attitudes and actions often dictated what happened next. I admired most of the medics I worked with because when we got to the scene, we were calm and level headed. We made quick decisions based on our knowledge and experience, and put minds at ease, brought some order to the chaos. Found a way to move forward and get through the crisis.
I remember how our leaders didn't seem to have the same skills in a crisis. Instead we charged ahead with ill advised wars based on supposition and knee jerk fear and not fact. Our leaders, both right and left, ran amok all in the name of Patriotism and National Security. "We" had been "attacked" and now we had to fight back.
To use a metaphor, we responded to the hornets attacking us by screaming maniacally and going off to kill every badger we could find.
I remember one of the newscasters saying in closing that the only way the terrorists could win was by dividing the American people, which he was sure wouldn't happen. And I remember the months and years between that event and today, wondering if somehow the terrorists did win a little bit. Because we are awfully divided today.
I will never forget the events of that day and today, as I do every year on this day, I fly my flag at half mast to remember the victims of the 9/11 attack and the servicemen and women who have sacrificed so much since then. I will also never forget the repercussions of that day that linger to this one. And I'll fly my flag at half mast for the rest of the month as I do every year on this month, in remembrance of the unity and non-partisan cooperation that glimmered in the days following 9/11. The feeling of hope that was squashed by political and religious fervor.
I sure wish things had turned out differently, and my prayers today include prayers for the intolerant and partisan. Because the very thoughts that drove the perpetrators of 9/11 to their acts of violence seem to be infecting the minds of extremists in our country. And if that continues, then the terrorists did what they set out to do that awful day. Divided the country irreparably.
Do you remember?