Tuesday , September 12, 2017 - 5:15 AM5 comments
I woke Monday morning to the sight of American flags posted in the front yards of our neighborhood.
The patriotic display is part of an annual fundraiser for our local Boy Scout troop — you make a yearly donation, and the boys post an American flag in front of your home on major holidays.
That morning, I sat on the edge of the bed shaking the cobwebs from my brain and trying to process the reasoning behind the red, white and blue flag on my front lawn.
“It’s September,” my groggy thought process reasoned. “Labor Day was a week ago, so that’s not it. Let’s see ... yesterday was the 10th, today is the 11th. Oh yes, Sept. 11 — Patriot Day.”
We’ve been admonished to “never forget” the events of Sept. 11, 2001. I’m embarrassed to say that, for a sleepy instant on Monday morning, I indeed forgot.
Observed as the “National Day of Service and Remembrance,” Patriot Day is held in memory of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
Like most Americans over a certain age, I remember where I was on that Tuesday morning 16 years ago. I recall the feelings — of hopelessness and helplessness, of horror and fear and anger and sorrow all rolled into one — as I watched the events unfold on television.
But even more than the events of Sept. 11, I remember the emotions of Sept. 12. And Sept. 13. And any number of days after that morning America found itself under very real attack.
Following the initial shock, what I felt mostly was a kindred spirit with my fellow Americans. Because here’s the thing: 9/11 wasn’t an attack on New Yorkers, or Pentagon workers, or airline passengers; it was very much an attack on Americans. All of us.
While I have no statistics to prove it, I suspect in the weeks and months following 9/11 we in this country were measurably kinder to one another. There were more random acts of service among strangers. Less road rage. More patience and forgiveness for the silly little things that, before the twin towers fell, pitted American against American.
Oh, there was an ugly side to all this. There were people who used the terrorist attack to accuse some of being un-American, or unpatriotic. And there was this undercurrent of wanting to rain down fire and fury on anyone who dared oppose us, perfectly crystallized in testosterone-filled country songs like Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American).” The 2002 hit song used an embarrassingly large number of references to eagles flying, Mother Freedom ringing her bell, Uncle Sam taking names, the Statue of Liberty shaking her fist, and America lighting up enemies’ worlds like the Fourth of July.
“Justice will be served and the battle will rage,” the song promises, continuing: “This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage/ And you’ll be sorry that you messed with the US of A/ ‘Cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way.”
But for the vast majority of us, inserting boots into people’s rectums didn’t seem all that “American way”-ish. And as for the Statue of Liberty “shakin’ her fist”? In order to do that, she’d first need to drop either her torch in the one hand that lights the way to freedom, or the tablet of law in the other. Neither of which seems particularly Lady-Liberty-like.
What I remember most post-9/11 was not the feelings of anger and hate toward those who would commit such a cowardly act against the innocent, but the feelings of compassion and love Americans felt for one another. There was this sense that we could put aside the things that made us different and remember the things that made us all Americans.
Sadly, it didn’t last. It never does. Gradually — almost imperceptibly — we went back to arguing over which political party loves America best.
I’ve got this theory that if terrorists really wanted to destroy the United States, they’d simply leave us alone and watch us implode. Because every time they attempt another attack on American soil, it only serves to temporarily unite us.
I remember 9/11. I remember the way we treated one another. For one brief, shining moment in the gathering darkness following that terrible late-summer day back in 2001, what mattered most was not that we came from a “Red” state or a “Blue” state. Or that we were white, or black, or some other color.
What mattered most was that — at our core — we were all red, white and blue.
That’s the part I’ll never forget.
Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.
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