I remember, like so many others, exactly where I was when I heard the first plane was flown into one of the Twin Towers. I was sitting at my desk at my customer service job, answering phone calls, processing claims, and listening to The Howard Stern Show (very quietly). I remember there was some commotion on the show and they were talking about something serious for a change. I couldn’t always get good reception in my office, so the signal kept cutting out. A few moments later, my soon to be wife called and told me the news, a plane was flown into the World Trade Center. The rest of the day became a blur. We kept going to the TV in the break room get updates and calling loved ones to find out what else was going on. I called my mother, who worked in Pittsburgh and lives just outside of it in the country. I called because some of the initial reports from the local news was that a plane was flown into Pittsburgh, or just outside of the city, or blew up over it. But of course she was okay. Everyone I knew was okay. Except we weren’t.
I remember the next day much better. I, like so many in the world watched President Bush give his address the night before. I, like so many others did not go into work the next day. I stayed home with my fiancée, whom I was supposed to marry in just over two weeks, and we watched the many news reports in horror and shock. We talked about many things: about what this meant for our wedding, about what this meant for our friend’s wedding in just a week, about who could have done such a terrible thing and why, and about the future. We talked about war.We talked to our family and neighbors in a way we haven’t done in a long time. I remember September 12th because I remember it being the day I knew it was all going to change in our country. And I was right, but for all the wrong reasons.
I remember thinking about WWII and the famous line attributed to the Japanese Admiral Isoroku Tamamoto:”I fear we have awoken a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve.” I thought about how so many American’s died that day, when we were “ready” for an attack and that terrible resolve brought destruction. I thought about what we would end up doing as a result of 9/11, when we were truly sleeping and the resolve I saw in each other’s eyes. I thought about how I started seeing us rise up as a nation, supporting each other, rediscovering our patriotism. I thought about how I couldn’t wait to see those bastards who did this to us pay, even if I wasn’t sure who those bastards were.
I remember year after year of war with people who hadn’t sent those planes into our nation’s pride. I remember a growing hatred toward Muslims, because there was much we didn’t understand about what happened and who was really at fault, but they made a convenient target. I remember friends and family being sent back over and over again, not all of them returning whole. Or at all.
What I know now is that on 9/11, we were hurt far deeper than we imagined. Those terrorists and planes didn’t just pierce our skin, they broke apart the thin veil of civility that used to keep us together, while we were still broken underneath. I know now that it exposed how our beliefs are far more separated than we thought, but we wrapped up the rift with patriotism and a common enemy. Now that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda is gone, the patriotism has seeped into our bones, has widened the gash between our beliefs, and infused it with American pride. I know now how when someone doesn’t stand with some people’s beliefs, they see it as unpatriotic, so therefore they must be un-American, a thing we all hold most dear, a pride down to the bone. I’ve seen this new patriotism being used to justify terrible words and deeds and I know now we haven’t seen the worst.
But I know we can do better. I know it may upset some when others don’t hold this country in the same esteem that they do, but remember why our grandparents fought in the great wars, why our fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends fought and still fight today. I know they fought for us, they fought for what they believed in, and they fought for the rights and freedoms we all are afforded. Whether it is the right to speak our minds as I do now, the right to vote for whomever we see fit or unfit, the right to bear arms to protect yourself or your family, or the right to peaceably protest all the many ills our country has, by marching as MLK did, by standing resolute like the Standing Rock Sioux, or by sitting like CK. We have been afforded these rights, but many of us have forgotten that all Americans have them, that all Americans deserve them, and that all Americans can use them. You don’t have to like those whose beliefs are different from yours, nor agree with them, but you must respect their rights.
I know we can be better. Remember 9/11/01. Remember the promise of 9/12. Remember what America can be.