Tag Archives: patriotism

Ten Years

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“The stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten–duty and patriotism, clad in glittering white; the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to heaven.”  –David Lloyd George

Ten years passed.  Ten years of living in a new world.  Ten years of mourning and fear.  Ten years of questions and anger.  Ten years of life and death.

I was 16, up early for school.  I showered first, early in the morning, and often went back to sleep or caught up on homework.  In a dark, quiet house, I watched the news more for the running clock in the bottom corner than for any headlines.  I was putting on socks.  All stories stopped short and footage rolled from New York, a plane collided with a building.  It was shocking and confusing, reports muddled and brief.  Could an accident this ugly really happen?  As reporters relayed what they knew, questions arose.  As a serious concern descended on the Bay Area newsroom, I became more glued to the coverage.  As reporters shared what little was known, a second plane took the nation by surprise, live.  I kept getting ready for school and remember telling my mom as she readied my little brothers in the bathroom.  I was brushed off, clearly mistaken.  I left for school and found my zero period Chemistry classroom flooded with radio coverage.  We listened as buildings collapsed.  I remember the principal making an announcement.  I remember coming home from school, canceling my babysitting appointment that night and the man not understanding why I wanted to be home with my family.

“What broke in a man when he could bring himself to kill another?”  –Alan Paton

I remember sitting in the living room that evening, watching television coverage.  The news continued all day, anchors tired and windows growing dark.  Images of the buildings, of the collapse, of people running and jumping and crying streamed.  It continued for hours, days.  More death, more destruction, more hatred.  It was all so senseless, so unnecessary.  It was brutal and cruel, targeting civilians and innocents going about life and work.  It was unbelievable.

Our country is not the only thing to which we owe our allegiance.  It is also owed to justice and to humanity.  Patriotism consists not in waving the flag, but in striving that our country shall be righteous as well as strong.”  –James Bryce

Then, among the carnage, something amazing began.  People came together.  People loved and helped however possible.  People gave and gave and supported.  People were human.  In the face of blind hatred, optimistic courage poured forth.  Much like the Whos, America was about more than business and skyscrapers.  Taking away our pretty things, taking away our family and friends, would not destroy us.  We became stronger than the violence that sought to rend us apart.  There was a shining moment when all that was right with our country, all that we idealize and cling to, shone.  We were the American dream: rich, strong, generous and brave.  We were the promise for a tomorrow, no matter how dark the day.

(Frodo) “I wish none of this had happened.”

(Gandalf) “So do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.  There are forces at work in this world, Frodo, besides the will of evil.”  —Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring

Life is not the same today.  The world is different than it was ten years and one day ago.  I resent that my safety was stolen, my security erased–the world is a scary place.  I resent that I can’t take liquids on a plane, that I can’t meet my parents at their gate as they arrive.  I resent that every fly over for the football games down the street stops my heart and makes my stomach lurch.  I resent that concentrate, small hatred has ruined so much for so many.  Today should be unremarkable.  It should be just another Sunday, wedged between my aunt’s anniversary and a close friend’s birthday.  It was not supposed to be this way.

“I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine.”  –Kurt Vonnegut

And, most years, the day passes as routine.  The date stands out and a slight anxiety surrounds it, but it blends rather seamlessly with the rest of the year.  What I lost was ineffable, theoretic.  There are so many others who lost concrete, tangible pieces of their life.  I was lucky.  But this year, with the tenth anniversary, I am much more aware of the day.  I am astonished that ten years have passed, that sixteen year-old me lived in such a different world.  As I watch the memorials and coverage, I have been unexpectedly moved.  Last night I watched as four firefighters recounted the woman they saved from the tower, and how she stopped to rest as the building crumbled.  Even though they had helped carry her down, she stopped at the perfect spot, cocooning them in the stairwell and protecting them.  The tears welled in my eyes as they reunited, the four tough men stooping to hug the lady.  Tonight I watched the real-time footage documented with the fire department.  As they entered tower one, filling the lobby, my body tensed and I had to keep myself from shouting, “get out!” at the television.  As off-duty men arrived at the station and suited up, racing into the destruction, the tears came.  All of the fear and devastation came back.  The bravery and unimaginable humanity overcame me as they did then.  It was all raw and real, just as confusing and painful as the day it happened.

Ten years has been a long time.  I am a different person and the world has changed.  But it also feels like yesterday, like the dust has not yet settled.  In some ways, it hasn’t.  But today, I know that I love this country.  I love the people who love it.  I am humbled to live under the same flag that flew over those men and women who rushed to their deaths to spare others from theirs.  Today was a very different day.

“The real differences around the world today are not between Jews and Arabs, Protestants and Catholics, Muslims, Croats and Serbs.  The real differences are between those who embrace peace and those who would destroy it, between those who look to the future and those who cling to the past, between those who open their arms and those who are determined to clench their fists.”  –Bill Clinton, 1997

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A Complex Victory

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“Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible.  But in the end, they always fall.  Always.”  –Mahatma Ghandi

I had planned to write about something else tonight.  Then life happened.  While talking on the phone with my dad, the news cut in with the announcement that Osama bin Laden is dead.  For a country that has feared that name alone for nearly a decade, a name that is synonymous with death and destruction, this is huge news.  This is the only news. 

I think about the gravity of this revelation.  The man we have hunted, have feared, have loathed since September 11th, 2001, is gone.  He is no more.  His body is still, his life ended.  It is still far too early to tell what the implications of this will be.  Is the world now a safer place?  Did we crush the head of the terrorist beast that has stalked us?  Did we simply anger it?  No one has answers to these questions yet.

I am, rather unbelievably, conflicted about this news.  The moment I read the headline flashing on my television, I felt a jolt of disbelief.  I remember that morning, remember the planes, remember the rubble and tears and flags.  I remember the fear, the hope, the patriotism, and the thirst for blood.  I remember vividly the day that made Osama bin Laden a household name. 

“The world needs anger.  The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough.”  –Bede Jarrett

A piece of me is glad, relieved to hear that he is dead.  I feel a little safer, a little calmer.  I am not naive and know that there are still plenty of people out there who hate me because I am an American, because I am white, because I am me.  This is not the end of the story.  But tonight, as I go to sleep, I will know that there is one less monster in my closet, one less nightmare hiding under the bed.  This is not an innocent man, bullied by the big kid on the block.  This is a murderer, gone.  He terrorized the world, made life unbearable for average, innocent people.  He preached hate and lived violence.  His crimes warranted punishment. 

We were wounded, blindsided.  We wanted justice, and were willing to settle for revenge.  In all honesty, they may be one in the same.  We wanted blood for blood, death for death.  And I am not necessarily saying we were wrong.  Tonight’s news may very well be a reprieve for countless lives.  This may mean freedom for the masses.  This may have been necessary and inevitable.

“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”  –Ernest Hemmingway

All of that being said, I feel a deep, nagging sadness as I watch the news.  I do not think that we were necessarily wrong.  As I said, I do feel that this was necessary, that I am now safer, if only in my mind.  However, the human part of me, the divinity within me, the heart of God calling to me, is saddened. 

I watched as crowds gathered in front of the White House and cheered.  They threw streamers, chanted, and took photos.  They celebrated.  And perhaps the joy is justified, but a man is dead.  Another person was forced to end a life.  No, bin Laden himself had no qualms about killing.  Yes, he was a monster.  But a tiny little part of me also knows that he was once a baby, a son.  He was indoctrinated, just like we all are.  He made choices, just like we all do.  He allowed a hatred to manifest in ways that we all do not.  But he was a person, a life now ended.  I have no problem with people resting easier, with a danger neutralized.  I do, however, sit uneasy in the celebration of death.  I do not know that we should have a party over the end of a life.

I feel a tearing, a pull between knowing the bigger story and seeing the bigger picture.  Justice.  Revenge.  Protection.  Necessity.  It was all of those things.  I can’t help but feel, though, that relief and jubilee are not necessarily the same.  Death and destruction are still tragedy.  The man who killed him did not deserve to be a hero in that way, deserve to have that job thrust upon him.  Whatever had to happen, I feel a deep sadness that we rejoice in murder.  That is what bin Laden did.  We did not deserve the attacks he rallied terrorists behind.  However, we also do not deserve to be a people who celebrate death, dance through destruction and revel in ruins.

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary.  The evil it does is permanent.”  –Mahatma Ghandi

“Land that I love”

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“You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers who file by the White House in a show of strength and muscle, but with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness.” –Erma Bombeck

The Fourth of July has always been a small, quite holiday with a big end.  We never did much growing up.  Perhaps there would be a barbeque, some time spent by a pool, but generally it was a day spent trying to hide from the cruel heat.  In high school, I spent the day working at the local celebration at the park and since I left home I have had to work as well.  However, no matter how big the fireworks I watch are, nothing compares to a small town Fourth.

After we ate dinner, my parents would load us into the car and head down to the fairgrounds to watch the fireworks.  We would leave early, well before sunset, in order to find a good spot to set up our blanket and chairs for the night.  We collected our walkmen and gameboys and books and made last-minute requests for sodas and snacks to go in the cooler, and then headed out.  We had different friends that joined us over the years, sitting on the grassy hill, but the night was always the same.  We swatted bugs and fought boredom and saw dozens of people we knew pass  by.  We’d chase down friends and heave overly dramatic sighs when people would stand in front of us.  When the sun set and the cool drifted in, our attention would wander as we whined and wondered when the show would start.  Rogue fire crackers would sound in the neighborhoods behind us and tease eager kids.  Then, finally, the first real one would rise.  We’d lay back and watch the sky above us, ooohing and awing at the raining sparkles.  Babies cried at the loud screams and booms and for a moment the whole town stood still.  The grand finale would always come too soon and life would start again.  As soon as the last light disappeared, under the drifting smoke, we would pack up and try to beat the traffic out of the middle of town.

I’ve seen some really impressive displays since moving to a big city.  I’ve listened to radio stations sync patriotic music to fireworks.  I’ve spent the night drinking and eating with friends.  I’ve sat home, exhausted, and done absolutely nothing.  None of those nights has yet to compare to Independence Day at home, in the summer breeze, with my family. 

Yesterday I spent time with friends, and friends of friends, doing nothing particularly patriotic.  We ate and drank and played games.  We watched the boys play baseball and walked through the streets barefoot.  Unexpected and thick clouds led us to choose to forgo a fireworks trip and opt for the hot tub.  Beer in hand, we headed to the pool to talk and soak.  As we walked we listened to the crack and whizz of fireworks just beyond our view.  A sparkle or two made their way above the trees, but we saw very little.  A dozen twenty-somethings sitting around watched colored clouds reflect the celebrations as the displays went on.  A barrage of booms signaled the end, the best of the night.  With no prompting, with no explanation or expectation, one of the guys began to sing.  By the second “America,” we were all singing along.  Perhaps it was the alcohol, the day, the way we were raised, or just an authentic feeling of love for our home, but no one hesitated to sing along.  We finished our verse just as the last fireworks echoed across the neighborhood, and just as quickly went back to our conversations.

Perhaps these simple holidays are a little more patriotic than I give them credit for.  Sitting on a street with family.  Walking and talking freely with friends.  An abundance of food and drink and laughter.  Fearlessly going out into the night.  This is the Fourth of July, what our nation is.  We don’t fear war or occupation in our back yards.  We don’t cower under dictators or hide from the military.  We live free and joyful, boldly and hopefully.  This country is not perfect, and I am not always as grateful as I should be for its gifts.  While I was not at home, last night was an unforgettable birthday celebration for my home.  Being alive and young and free is worth celebrating.  Having a home that allows us to be who we are, fights for us to be safe, protects our right to be happy–these are things worthy of our gratitude.  Voices raising in the darkness, singing through the night about a country that, for better or worse, we love?  That’s what the Fourth of July is all about.

“America!  America!/ God shed His grace on thee/ And crown thy good with brotherhood/ From sea to shining sea!” –Katharine Lee Bates, “America the Beautiful”