And what have we learned?

Of course you remember where you where: in class, at work, in your car, watching TV.  The pictures from that day are etched in several generations.  The ramifications are still unraveling.

And this year? The memories hurt. There was a spirit in the year that followed of bended but not broken; together we can build a better world. I took the first regularly scheduled flight out of the Colorado Springs airport when the airports re-opened. It was an early morning flight to Salt Lake City.  I often think of that flight as “unzipping” the morning.  It often brings the sunrise into Salt Lake.  I remember everybody nervously glancing at each other – probably all a bit grateful that we were on a regional jet. 

My friends had asked me to reconsider my trip.  I couldn’t. I remember arguing “If I don’t fly; they win”. I made it to Salt Lake for a 3 hour layover (to fly east to Oklahoma City) and wandered through the chaos. Armed guards, dogs and people.  Everybody, it seemed, was trying to fly east. People begged for flights to anywhere on the I-95 corridor. Richmond instead of Philly? Fine, I can take the train.  The chaos, panic and sheer desire to want to be home was palpable.  I had a fleeting thought of “why am I on a plane…I could go see my sister next week.”

The stress that was etched on the travelers heading to DC, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston showed the emotions that had been so unspoken in the Colorado mountains earlier that week.  These were people heading home: to what, many didn’t know. I remember speaking to a guy from NYC. He had driven from LA to Salt Lake to get a plane to NY. I stood to watch the National Prayer service amid a group of strangers. A rabbi or minister or imam asked the congregation to pray. It was instinctive: a group of strangers, in an airport restaurant bowed and began to link hands.  Tears fell. Strangers hugged. Nobody had words.  It seemed so insurmountable and so necessary: we can’t let them win. Not a fight on mentality but a let us build a better world. Let us remember that the actions of a handful are not indicative of many.

I remember my oldest nephew always needing to know where I changed planes until we finally put it together.  I remember my brother’s wedding later that year and thinkin the one thing I don’t want to see the hole in the Pentagon: and seeing it. I was in France in early 2002: the outpouring of love for simply being an American.  I stood by the gargoyles atop Notre Dame and had a conversation with a Palestinian about the world and where this all would leave. A random conversation in a new world.

We had the love of the world holding us.

And we blew it.

I feel like they won.

Pundits, historians, politicians can all debate what the “purpose” of the 9/11 attacks were. For me, it was to disrupt the “American way of life”. They have. We have people threatening to burn holy texts. We have a leading real estate mogul making statements about “riots” if a cultural center is built.

We are a different nation. We are not a better nation. We have become us versus them. Good versus bad. We are polarized. We point fingers instead of linking hands. It wasn’t just Americans who died. It wasn’t just Christians. People from 112 nations, of faith or no faith died. People survived amidst great odds.

And now? We shout. We argue. Over things that can so easily be fixed. Why?

Nine years later, our way of life has changed. We blame. We point fingers. We would rather stand apart than find the common thread.

We let our fears win.

And now, it’s time to remember what we stand for: equality, freedom and compassion. If the hate wins in the end, they win.  If they win? It will be our fault. We can disagree on policies and politics. But we cannot hate.  We lost far too much and it is never what we stood for.


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