Sunday, September 20, 2015

Reclaiming the American Spirit: Thoughts on what we lost on 9/11

This is a re-post from a piece I wrote on 9/11/2015.

Today is that day.
For me it is a day full of emotion and an ominous mind.
I look out my front window and see almost exactly what I saw on that day years ago, a green field and that same cerulean sky, crystal clear and empty.
"The innocence of a clear September sky." That phrase, which I read in the days after 9/11 has embedded itself in my memory. It is immovable. It is as much a part of this day as the leaves outside my window beginning to turn.
I usually spend this day in silent lamentations for lives lost, innocence lost and for dreams shattered. As a nation we had been innocent of violence brought by others on our own soil for a very long time. The events of that day brought the harsh presence of sharp reality into our conscience. Our dream of innocence was not just ended, it was torn away with such violence that it left us disoriented, gasping, instantly and hyper-awake. We awoke to a new world.
All the formerly perceived insulation that we had from the shadowy 'them' was gone. The shattering left behind a world hardened, turned sharp and jagged. A once forgiving scenery now catches and cuts. The world we suddenly perceived as dangerous.
But, in truth, nothing changed except the loss of our earlier perception. The world for all that we think and fear, is no more dangerous a place than it was.
We had grown so comfortable in our safe isolation that we thought ourselves inviolate. Voices who counseled caution were duly entertained and then dismissed. Much as a parent might try to counsel a teen. Our perception of the world was all the world. We were immortal.
When truth came home, our world fell around us. I think we all died a little that day. Even the hollow cynics who held themselves aloof and whispered "we warned you", even they can point to the place in their chest where a hole now exists.
Time has passed. A monument was erected. The names of the lost are remembered. New towers go up, a symbol of hope, but empty. Perhaps, they are more angry defiance.
We, the greater we, are still lost. What was ripped from us fourteen years ago cannot be restored. But with our innocence we also lost ourselves. Our generosity is buried. Our faith in our neighbor is torn. We, who once lit a lamp for the masses of the world now seek to bar those doors. We talk of walls between us and our neighbors.
A nation that once stood for individuality, equity and unity now huddles in on itself, clutching at anything old and familiar. Trying to make ourselves small and innocent and protected by something bigger than ourselves, so that we can never be hurt again.
We are afraid. We have rarely been a nation afraid and never for so long. Somewhere in the rubble, or lifted in the dust of that day is the American Spirit.
That spirit that says we are different. Each of us comes to this nation with a different story: the Jew; the atheist; the queer; the Christian; the black; the trans; the Muslim; the white; the intellect; the faithful. We are all different and we embrace our neighbor, different as they might be, because we are American.
That spirit founded a nation like no other. A place where there was space for all. A place that looked beyond color and creed to a person's character. Where reason and faith could both flourish. That spirit brought us through two world wars, pandemic and civil strife. It took us to the moon. And we were stronger for it. The spirit created a nation where ingenuity was rewarded and social equity was valued.
We need to find that spirit, that meaning of American again. We crouch in fear so afraid of being hurt again. We allow the government to spy on us, we arm ourselves, we see disagreement as treason. Fear has us on a leash. And we have accepted this, because it restores our illusion of safety.
We need to find that spirit. The one that let us stand up and face the uncertainty of the world. We need to find that spirit that allows us to say "My belief in my fellow Americans is stronger than our differences." For only when we give up our fear, and embrace our brothers and sisters can we move forward out of this oppressive and shadowed place and back into the light of freedom.

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