Patriot Day: A Personal Rememberance of 9/11

I’m going to be honest. I don’t like to think about September 11th. Sort of like hotels don’t have a 13th floor, I’d like September to go directly from 10 to 12, skipping over 11 entirely. It’s not for the reason that you think, though. My uncle’s birthday was September 11th. Notice I say was. His birthday is always the worst day of the year for my aunt. So take the fact that he’s not in her life anymore and compound it with the fact that a serious national tragedy occurred on that day, and she’s a big mess every year. It hurts me to know that she’s hurting. No amount of anything our family can do helps her, and I guess I don’t expect it to. But because September 11th was declared Patriot Day by President Bush the second, she’s got a yearly reminder. My uncle’s birthday could have been any other day of the year and eventually the memory would fade and one year my aunt could even forget that the day was anything special. Now every year, attention is drawn to this day, twisting the knife deeper.

See a parallel between her personal tragedy and our national tragedy? Baby Boomers have JFK. Generation X and Y have September 11th, 2001. I’ll never forget seeing the images on our big-screen TV, the towers and their smoke the same size as me. I’ll never forget how my opinion of Howard Stern was changed that day, as he departed from his regularly scheduled raunchy programming to be a balm for those of us in the country who were lucky enough to tune in. I also will never forget that even in Pennsylvania, I couldn’t get a call through to my family. I’ll remember how first responders from all over the country flooded New York City and Arlington, Virginia to help rescue victims and reassure civilians. The whole nation banded together and held the line, saying ‘we will help our neighbors through this’.

In the short term after the attacks, borders were tightened, and as a country we looked for who to blame. Rightly so, because to do otherwise would have caused other attacks of a similar nature. The hyper-vigilance has ceased to an extent, but we still hear about terrorist threats from outside (and inside our borders). My local library is one of the few places in the country where you can see pieces of a steel girder from Tower One. Part of the memorial is a framed folded American Flag, its glass display case etched with the phrase “We Shall Never Forget”. Correct. We should never forget, but neither should we let it rule us. The intended result of the long game that the masterminds behind those attacks were playing was to internally divide the people of this country, to make us look over our shoulders at our neighbors in suspicion.

Rather than letting this happen, we need to remember what makes this country great. Freedom is that greatness. We can say anything we want about our elected officials and not fear for our lives. Both men and women have the right to vote for those same elected officials. Women can go to school alongside men, and not be beaten for having the audacity to want to learn. The United States is the place where anybody can be whatever they want to be. You can marry anybody you want (unless you’re siblings or first cousins). We can practice any religion we want, or not practice any religion at all. This is all because some forward-thinking individuals became fed up with the way that Great Britain was putting restrictions on their lives. Rather than being a melting pot, where all individual aspects of individual cultures are subsumed in the whole, the United States is more of a salad bowl. Each culture adds its own unique flavor to the mix. None of the ingredients are really combined with another to create one taste, each ingredient retains its own flavor. If you take one of those ingredients away, the end product is less flavorful and diverse. Freedom, in this case, is the dressing on the salad. It holds all the croutons and the lettuces and cucumbers together.

So while I’d really rather we could skip September 11th entirely, the thing that I think we need to remember from it is that sense of community that followed. The knowledge that we are all the same, even though we’re different. Everyone living here today has either come here for a reason or been born to parents who came here for a reason. That reason is freedom.

Posted: Friday, September 11, 2015