History is made of a lot of different things — trends, cultures, people, events. Some of them have little bit parts, only locally significant of themselves, but strung together to give significance to the picture overall. But other things are monumental, things that are so individually significant that they define a generation and rock the world.
The Boston Tea Party was one such event, as was signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Bombing of Pearl Harbor and D-Day, the Assassination of Kennedy and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, Woodstock and tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
Today, we recognize another such event — the 9/11 Attacks. There are so many emotions packed into that day and the days that followed that I could write a tribute every year for the rest of my life and still not hit all of the high points. But today, what strikes me is not so much the memory of 9/11 itself, but of the country that we became because of it, and the stark difference I see between that country and the one we currently live in.
In the days following 9/11, there was a sense of unity that I’d never seen up until that point. I did a lot of my growing up in Alabama in the 70s and 80s, and had seen first hand the benefit of a neighborly culture, “where they know you by name and they treat you like family”, as the song goes. And yet, for all that I knew to expect that from the South, I was shocked — in a good way — to see that culture permeate mainstream America. For a time, at least, people prayed for strangers, gave blood, volunteered, donated, did whatever they could to support and uplift their fellow American. Eventually, sadly, that unity wore off, and we settled back into our native cultures and assigned roles. I kind of expected it, but it made it no less sad.
Nowadays, I’m almost nostalgic for those days of indifference.
Turn on the news today, and you’ll find stories of athletes sitting down for the national anthem. You see instances of people standing, burning, or even defecating on the flag. Anti-religious sentiment is getting more prevalent as freedoms are stripped from people of faith in order to service people who reject their faith. Racial division is at a modern high, and racist hypocrisy is even encouraged by leaders and the media.
Here we are, fifteen years after a horrific event that brought the BEST out in the American people… and I’ve never seen America WORSE than it is today. My kids were all born after 9/11, so the world that I’m lamenting, they’ve never even seen. Thankfully, they’re still kids, and the South is still largely the South, “where they know you by name and treat you like family”, but I gotta wonder just how long that will last. As 9/11 fades more into the past, so does that brief day of unity, like the calm before the storm. It almost makes me thankful for the evils that bin Laden perpetrated — certainly not for the suffering that they caused, but for the brief moment that America was, once more, one nation under God.