Saturday, September 11, 2010

Our flag was still there

It was a Tuesday morning and I didn't have any classes but I still had homework to do. So I got out of bed around 9 and made my way to the bathroom. When I was done, I opened the door to hear my youngest brother, who was 7 at the time, yelling at me, "Two towers fell down and George Bush has to save the people!" Still groggy with sleep, I mumbled, "Huhwhatareyatalkinbout?"

I went downstairs to see my mom frozen on the couch, watching TV. I sat down next to her and tried to make sense of what Peter Jennings was saying. Planes... World Trade Center... Flight 93... the Pentagon. I had walked into the middle of something horrific and didn't know which end was up. It was several long minutes before I was able to put it all together. I barely left the living room all day. Images kept rolling across the screen. Ash, dust, debris, death. The airports were closed. The malls were closed. Home, which was always the safest place, suddenly felt vulnerable.

The remember feeling in a daze over the next few weeks and months. I remember feeling fiercely patriotic and yes, I'm going to go there, I was proud of our president in the aftermath. I was proud of us. But I was on edge everywhere I went. I was scared of those who bore a resemblance to the terrorists. I confess that sometimes I still am. But I think I've grown numb. I think we all have and that is a dangerous thing to be.

It's been nine years now - not even a whole decade - and we don't talk about it as much. Have we just adjusted that well? Have we forgotten already? Do we just not want to think about it? This is trivial, I know, but I read only one comic strip that paid tribute to that fateful day. This is what I do for a living, by the way. I prepare comics pages for newspapers around the country. I have 22 newspaper clients and not every paper runs the same strips. Twenty two clients means a few hundred different comic strips. Maybe not quite that many, since there is some overlap, but still. A LOT. Most of them go out of their way to spend a week acknowledging Veterans' Day, use their strip as a platform to remind people to vote, or build their whole series around politics. But only one strip thought to remember the day we were attacked, to pay homage to what we have gone through as a country.

We need to think about it. We need to remember what it was like that day, the horror and the agony and the fear. Someone declared war on us and we've been fighting ever since. But it seems the fire has gone out of the fight - which I fear will make us sitting ducks. I'm no politician. You can probably guess which party I vote with, but I'm not terribly well-versed in international affairs (or even a lot of domestic ones. ahem. I'll work on it). But I doubt that the extremists are finished and by forgetting their work, we're giving them the upper hand.

Furthermore, we do our soldiers, our firefighters and police officers, our fellow patriots and ourselves a disservice when we choose to stop talking about what happened nine years ago. Many left their wives, husbands, children and friends behind. Many ran into burning buildings or into the Iraqi desert and came back broken. Many never came back at all. Many sat at home and watched it all go down, wondering how to pick up the pieces. We all changed. We mark time by it now. We talk about what life was like before the planes crashed into the towers. What life is like after. Let's stop pretending we can sweep this under the rug or bury the skeletons in a closet.

Francis Scott Key was reflecting on a literal battle scene when he wrote these lines, but the words ring true for us today: "And the rocket's red glare/the bombs bursting in the air/gave proof through the night/that our flag was still there." Our very own anthem was penned during war. Our nation was born out of a struggle. We do poorly to forget the hard times, because it's when things are hard that we remember who we are and what we're capable of. As the planes burst into flames and the towers crumbled, as the Pentagon was plowed and a field in Pennsylvania turned into a graveyard, we remembered we were Americans and we fought back, not just in the desert, but by pulling out bodies, offering drinks of water and standing strong together.

I imagine there were a lot of tears on Flight 93, as the passengers considered in their last moments the people they were leaving behind, but the tears didn't keep them from doing what they had to do. They didn't think about the politics involved, or whether they had voted for the current occupant of the White House or not. They saw an evil at hand and gave up their lives to stop it. They left a legacy of courage and action and we would do well to remember them.

America... let's roll!

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