Can it really be 16 years ago today that terrorists commandeered three commercial airliners and flew them into buildings in the heart of New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., killing thousands of innocent people?
Americans changed on that day. Since 9/11, we fly the flag more. A lot more. We solemnly rise to our feet at public sports events when huge replicas of the stars and stripes are displayed, nearly filling the playing field. We have discarded a beloved American tradition of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at the 7th-inning stretch at baseball games, replacing it with “God Bless America.” We fly our flags at night and in the rain and wear its replicas on our clothing in defiance of rules spelled out in our nation’s flag code. Politicians wear flag pins on their lapels lest others who see them will consider them less American. We distrust others more than we once did, particularly those from somewhere else or those whose religion is different from our unofficial national one. Maybe we hate them.
Since 9/11, we are quicker to judge, distrust and hate. Why? We have wanted to believe that 9/11 brought us together, united us as one, compassionate family, and it did that for a time. How can such contrary instincts coexist?
On 9/11/2011, we came forward together to help others. Personal acts of courage and heroism didn’t originate with 9/11, but in America it certainly blossomed then. So many acts of courage, people helping strangers in need. We saw it following the Boston Marathon bombing. We witness it in the devastation of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We see it daily at the side of the road as we rush to the aid of strangers in a car crash or fire. Such is not uniquely American. Witness Paris, Brussels, Madrid, London.
Our natural humanitarian, compassionate instincts can be challenged by influential people who would rather divide than unite. They think in terms of winners and losers rather than neighbors. Today, as we remember the lessons of 9/11, we serve ourselves well to decide whose voices we will heed and whose messages we will support. For me and my house, it is not about waving flags or hating enemies. It is about uniting. It is about loving neighbors. All of them.