Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Out . . .

It's inescapable.  Ten years ago on this day, September 11 stopped being the day between the tenth and the twelfth and instead became a synonym for catastrophic.  All through this past week, just about anywhere you looked were reminders, memorials, and loops of footage of dust-covered, shell-shocked people wandering the streets of New York.

I don't like it.  Not one teensy bit.

I have my own ways of remembering that day.  I re-read the story of the first official victim of that day, at least in terms of death certificates issued.  Father Mychal Judge's story is inspiring, not for his death, but for his life.  There is much in his life to instruct those of us left here on Earth.

In the days immediately following that horrible September morn, my country changed.  And in the ten years since, we've changed more.  And in many ways, I dislike what I see.  We've become fragmented and suspicious.  It's harder to simply disagree with the opinions held by another - instead, we rush to demonize that other person as hopelessly naive at best and downright evil at worst.  We talk, often shrilly, but listen very little.  We're losing ourselves.

I think memorials are a fine thing.  It helps us psychologically to have a physical place to leave flowers and notes and teddy bears and combat boots.  But at the end of the day, memorials are still only places.  By all means, lay a wreath.  But also resolve to work to change the world.  

Abraham Lincoln got this right at the Gettysburg battlefield when he stated that dedicating part of the battlefield was "altogether fitting and proper" but "in a larger sense we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow this ground" for that has already been done by those who struggled there.  Rather, President Lincoln challenged his audience "to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on."  The task was to "highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom . . ." 

Mind you, this is much harder than making pretty speeches and flying the flag.  But it must be done.  For if we permit our hearts to harden to amber and use these days and places to only entrench our own dark fears, we dishonor our heritage.  America is a grand experiment in democracy and, for the most part, we've taken that ball and had a good run with it.  However, success in experiments is rarely total.  We've had setbacks and shameful chapters in our collective history and to refuse to acknowledge that is to willfully remain blind.  We're the home of the representative republic and rugged individualism.  We're the birthplace of the interchangeable part and the assembly line.  We invented powered flight and the computer chip.  Those are American footprints on the moon and we rounded up our own citizens and housed them in camps during World War 2 because we feared almond-shaped eyes.  We were the last industrialized country to abolish slavery and we turned attack dogs loose on citizens who dared to vote.  We're Walt Whitman and Bull Connor.  We're Hetty Green and Jane Addams.  We're robber barons and Labor Day.

It's easy to be fearful and it's hard to be brave, but the ability is in all of us.  So today, don't just fly the flag.  Live the best values it represents.

1 comment:

Tanya R. Cochran said...

Thank you for these words.