I didn’t understand what terrorism was. I didn’t understand war. War was something that my grandfather fought in—30 years ago. America was safe. Something as big as Pearl Harbor would never occur here again—at least not in my lifetime. Things like this just don’t happen to me.
Eighth grade. Mrs. Filsinger’s algebra II class. I think it was the first class of the day. We were taking a test. Mrs. Filsinger received a phone call. It was a wrong number; someone was trying to reach some other teacher, but they told Mrs. Filsinger what was going on. Immediately, she turned on the TV, which was right above my head, and called her daughter in Maryland. In my small mind, I was bugged that my teacher had turned on what seemed to be a movie when I was trying to finish my test. My classmates had turned their attention to the events unfolding. I just wanted a good grade.
I don’t know when it clicked that this was a big deal. (Things like this just don’t happen to me, remember?) I didn’t know what the Twin Towers were. I had never been to NYC, at least not that I remembered. I didn’t understand it. But it eventually clicked. It may have been when the plane hit the Pentagon; that was D.C. I knew D.C. very well. It may have been when I went home and watched to footage of the jumpers from the towers. I was home alone and felt scared; terrified of the future.
I’ve seen the gaping hole in the Pentagon. I’ve walked the hallowed ground in NYC where thousands of people died on that fall day. I’ve walked among the millions of wishes, notes, gifts and sadness left by people of all backgrounds for those who sacrificed. They didn’t ask to die for their country. They didn’t ask to be made exemplars. They wanted to live their lives. They wanted to love their families. They just wanted to BE.
But even ten years later, I don’t understand. I don’t understand why killing makes peace. Why hatred brings people to strap bombs to themselves and kill not only them, but also hundreds of other innocent strangers. I don’t understand why families have to endure the worry of knowing their son or daughter or husband or wife or brother or sister is in danger, half a world away, and the pain of holding that folded flag.
I do know that I am grateful. I am grateful for those recognize and appreciate the importance and sacred value of our country and freedom. I am grateful for those who have enough courage to protect that freedom for people they will never meet, in a countries across the world. It is the most Christ-like service: to give of yourself for people who cannot do it themselves. Christ protected us from sin and its consequences; our military men protect us from terrorism and destruction.
I’m not a terribly emotional person, but since September 11, 2001, I am that person who gets choked up singing or hearing the nation anthem. Seeing others show respect to all who made America possible brings me to tears. At college, my favorite part of the day was when the national anthem played throughout campus while the flag was taken down. I loved seeing the response it brought. It was disappointing to see those who didn’t respect this special time. Even if they were foreigners, this song was for them. They just didn’t understand. They didn’t understand how this single song represents hundreds of years of struggle, heartache, death and pure inspiration to bring about this nation.
The patriotism that America experienced following the attacks was overwhelming. Most homes in my home town displayed an American flag. People grouped together in the fight to protect America. But where is it now? It’s been smothered by technology, sports, debt and materialism. It’s been smothered by a hatred for a president and by 10 years of war and the sorrows and bitterness it brings. But we are a blessed country. We have so much compared to others in the world. We have so much to be grateful for and to.
I believe in America and its people. I believe that we are a great nation. However, I also believe that we are a great nation in trouble. We have forgotten our roots. We have forgotten why America is great. We are not grateful enough. Our nation was built on the principles of freedom and justice “to form a more perfect union.” I’ve seen that original document and believe in it and those who were inspired to write it.
We have potential. We have greatness. We must rise to the ever-present occasion. I hope we all remember that and know that even in one of the darkest times of our nation’s history, we were able to come together, grow and move forward. Let’s keep moving forward and only look back to remember and learn. America will only be great if its people are great.
Be great and remember how you’re here.