I had never experienced a disaster until September 11, 2001. I woke up that morning in a bed I would not sleep in again for over a year. Over the course of that year, I repeated nothing more than “when will things be back to normal?” Normal was all I wanted. Today, normal is a step backwards.
It has always seemed odd to me that the most positive days for America were those closest to the days of the attacks. People held hands, hate was unconscionable, cynicism was no longer part of our vocabulary. It was a feeling we had all wanted, but it came only through what we had most feared.
For years I have tried to put my feelings into writing, and the above two paragraphs are the closest I will ever come. In some ways, I wish I could return to the days when it seemed things could only get better. But things didn’t get better.
First, our government felt the need to fight death with death. In nearly a unanimous decision, we went to war with, well, what we thought we wanted to fight. We had no idea what exactly we were fighting, but we fought it nonetheless. Someone had to pay.
Ultimately, that someone was us. The collaboration and love that soared in the wake of the attacks was soon gone, and it was replaced by bigotry and hatred. The word “Islamophobia” suddenly arose, still for a reason few can answer.
Xenophobic rhetoric and literature penetrated American culture at an unprecedented rate. Every proposed Mosque throughout the country was viciously protested, violence soared, and some even decided to burn the Koran in protest. It seemed un-American not only because it was occurring, but because few spoke out against it.
Last year, we hit rock bottom, when the “Ground Zero Mosque that is actually not near Ground Zero” was proposed. Tea Party pundit Sarah Palin, and even President Barack Obama, had words of opposition. In our quest to bring back freedom as soon as possible, we began to degrade the fragile freedom we had created. It seemed people were confused and misled. For a moment, we were no longer America.
Then, a few months ago, the face of global terrorism, Osama bin Laden, was wiped off the map. People took to the streets in celebration, declaring the end of a hard-fought battle. Again, we had lost our sight of our freedom. Believe it or not, Americans were celebrating death.
In the wake of that accomplishment, the word “closure” was widely thrown around. I did not celebrate that night, and I honestly felt no sense of happiness. I was disgusted. Not because we had accomplished our mission, but because we had resorted to the most foul and inhumane route to freedom.
The only time “closure” every brushed through my senses was just a few days ago, when I looked up at the emerging tower to see it beautifully lit with red, white, and blue lights. Not only was it a beautiful sight, but there was finally a positive message embedded in one of the worst decades in American history: despite what you have done to us, we are still American.
Finally, we have realized our most powerful weapon.
Photo Credit: The U.S. Army