Like many Americans, I can’t help but reflect on the events that shook our nation twelve years ago today, and like most adults, I remember exactly where I was and what I was thinking on September 11, 2001.
My memories of the days that followed aren’t nearly as vivid, but I remember one thing very clearly: there were American flags everywhere.
They were flying on private homes. They adorned t-shirts and other articles of clothing. And they were fluttering on moving vehicles.
I found this fascinating. Not just because I’d never before seen American flags flying on automobiles as though they were paraphernalia for a sports team, but because the flags were so easily damaged, which seemed to defeat the purpose of flying them.
As a Girl Scout, I was taught all the rules about how to handle and treat a flag. As a young adult, I followed the national debate over the issue of defacing and even burning flags as a sign of protest.
And yet, in the days and months immediately following September 11, 2001, people were damaging their flags in the name of patriotism.
At the time, I wasn’t particularly upset by this phenomena; I simply found it interesting.
But now, twelve years later, the tattered flags represent something much greater to me: while America initially came together after 9 11, we’ve since been tearing apart – kind of like those flags waving on the cars.
I think that’s because some people equate patriotism with pride, pride with winning and winning with defeating an enemy.
There have been and always will be plenty of enemies to our country, we don’t need to be creating them. But some people seem intent on doing so by pointing fingers at immigrants, people with different religious beliefs, people with different political ideas, people who are poor, etc.
The list goes on and on.
Each time fingers point, I hear the American flag rip a bit more.
That’s because our flag represents a country that was founded by immigrants. A country that welcomed people who didn’t have the same religious beliefs as the establishment. A country that encouraged diverse ways of thinking. A country that has a rich tradition of helping those who are down on their luck. Yet, we are attacking our own ideals and history.
On this twelfth anniversary of September 11, I hope that people focus not only on all the lives that were lost on that horrible day but on how our subsequent actions illuminated the possibility of creating a brighter future for our children.
We recognized the power of coming together as a country to help each other.
We recognized how much we can accomplish when united rather than divided.
We recognized how we can use our diverse strengths to support each other rather than to tear each other down.
And we recognized what happens when we live can live up to ideals represented by our flag: a flag that may be a bit torn and ripped but still stands for a compassionate, caring and idealistic country.
At least that’s what I’m teaching my children.
I’m certainly hoping they have reason to believe me.