Those of you who’ve been reading here a while may remember this, which I think will be my “official” 9-11 post. It’s almost all I remember about that time.
Almost. These past couple of weeks, I’ve been remembering a little bit more. About what happened in the days and weeks after that terrible day. I remember going to the grocery store to get just a few things. I think it was that very afternoon. I do remember clearly that while I was in the store, two songs played on the Muzak: “The End of the Innocence,” and “New York Minute (Everything Can Change)”. I just Googled the lyrics to that second song; they are eerily well-suited to the occasion. To this day, when I think of 9-11, those songs form much of the soundtrack in my head.
The other thing I noticed, on that day in the store, and for a while after that — Americans were nicer to one another. In that store, that day, we looked at one another with kind eyes and small, sympathetic smiles, that said, “I know. Can you believe what’s happened? We’ll get through it. We’re all in this together.”
I remember one of my clients, the one whose lunch was stolen, articulating so clearly who we are, and why we would get through it. What the terrorists didn’t understand. She said that they chose targets that represented our wealth (The World Trade Center towers) and our military might (the Pentagon), and had aimed at one that would represent our power (the White House or Capitol). To them, those targets were America. The terrorists got it wrong. Because they didn’t really understand who we are. She said that we are the only country whose existence, whose origins, are based purely on ideals. We are not a country formed from ancient political processes, or the convenience of geography that facilitated commerce and economy. There was nothing at all convenient about our birth. The common thread of those who founded America was that they held the same ideals: liberty and justice. Government of the people, by the people and for the people. You can’t bomb that. It won’t die.
I thought my client’s perspective was absolutely accurate. And it helped explain my desperate hope that “they” didn’t bomb the Statue of Liberty. And another blogfriend’s fear for the safety of the Liberty Bell. The targets that the terrorists chose, while important to us, aren’t what we’re about.
For a little while after 9-11, we seemed to have been reminded of what we are about. Remember the Republicans and Democrats from Congress singing together “God Bless America” on the steps of the Capitol? For a moment there, they got it.
In the grocery store that day, and for a while after, the people we all encountered were like us. Americans. We’d all been hurt, we were all stunned, we all remembered how very much we love our country. I haven’t researched other cities, but I know that here, in the major cities closest to me, even the criminals observed a moment or two of silence. People stopped killing one another for a few days. Violent crime went down for a minute. I think it was because we knew that we had all been attacked. So we stopped attacking each other. And it wasn’t just the criminals. We all looked each other in the eyes more. Said “thank you” more. Smiled at strangers more. All hurt, all in the same boat, all hoping for a brighter tomorrow.
It lasted a while. But there’s nothing like a presidential election to remind us that it’s gone. The goodwill, one American to another, it’s gone. We’re back to us vs. them (Americans vs. Americans). Back to “those who don’t see the world exactly as I do are idiots, or evil, or both.”
I don’t want another reminder. Can’t we just decide to remember? That we are a nation founded on ideals? The liberty and justice thing? Can you imagine for a moment that someone of the “opposite” political party says something with which you disagree, and instead of spouting off about how stupid they are, you find some small thread of commonality in their view and yours? And if no common ground can be found, can you imagine choosing to applaud their courage in speaking out, when they know some will hate and ridicule them for it? Or just being happy for them, because they live here with you in a land where even stupid people can speak their stupid minds? “You go, stupid man (or woman)! Good for you, exercising those rights that people have sacrificed so much to earn and maintain for you! Speak up! Don’t let those sacrifices go to waste!”
Sound crazy? I’m not kidding. That’s what I believe.
I don’t know for whom I will vote. I do not completely agree with the positions of either candidate or party. And frankly, I’ve had it up to here with the childishness, the pettiness, the vitriol of the discourse coming from both sides. As I’ve said before, if I wrote out my “platform” here, neither party would have anything to do with me. And frankly, I’m proud of that. I have a hard time getting my mind around the idea of fully supporting the agenda of any one political party. It’s not me. I hope to be more open-minded, more curious about others’ ideas than that. I saw one other blogger (I know there are more, I just happen to have seen only one) who, like me, watches both political conventions with a notepad, to write down what we like and don’t like, what we want to research further, to check out, to verify. I will do the same thing once the debates start.
That’s a big part of what being an American means to me. I don’t have to march in lockstep. Neither do any of us. And when we choose not to jump in a box with a label on it, I think it affords us more freedom to be tolerant, even appreciative, of opinions unlike our own. And if that’s our perspective, maybe it will be easier to go back to those few kind, united days after 9-11, and say to each other, by our words, our actions, our attitudes, “I know. Can you believe what’s happened? We’ll get through it. We’re all in this together.”
Recommended reading: I just received a link to another way of framing this same picture.