Where Was God on 9/11?
I learned of the terrorist attacks when my brother called me on the morning of an ordinary workday. Like almost everyone, when I heard about the attacks I stopped what I was doing and sat glued to the television as the surreal events unfolded. All the commentators' speculation ended when the second plane hit and it became clear this disaster was intentional, not an accident. Three planes were missing, no four—no, maybe six. And then something no one could imagine took place live on network television. Two of the mightiest man-made monuments in the world simply vanished in a cloud of darkness before our eyes.
I have never been especially patriotic. I've traveled too much overseas, I guess, and have seen from afar the arrogance and insensitivity of the U.S. Sometimes I envy my friends who travel with a Canadian, rather than American, passport. Our military, our Olympic athletes, even our tourists walk with a swagger. I remember being in the Philippines around the time of the Sydney Olympics and asking my host if his country had ever won a medal. He hung his head, "We almost did once. And we have a chance for a bronze in boxing at this one." A nation of 90 million people had never won a gold medal. Meanwhile, the Americans were furious if they didn't take home at least half the golds in swimming and track-and-field, and our winners strutted irreverently on the platform as an Australian band played our national anthem.
September 11 changed my attitude. I choked up when the Congress sang "God Bless America," and when the Buckingham Palace guard played the "Star-Spangled Banner," and when firemen told corny stories about their fallen comrades, and when a solitary bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" in Union Square, and when hundreds of New Yorkers walked around dazed with photos of their missing loved ones, sheltering candle flames in their cupped hands, and when Dan Rather had to be comforted by David Letterman of all people. I felt a sudden surge of loyalty and unity with my country that was new to me. Scott Simon put words to it in a National Public Radio editorial after the WTC attacks. Patriotism is not based on a blind belief that the United States has no need to change, he said. God knows we need to change in many ways. Our love for America rests on the belief that the changes needed are more likely to occur here than anywhere else in the world.
I think of my own life. I grew up in a cloistered, fundamentalist environment in a segregated South. Now I live 2,000 miles away, in a place of exquisite beauty, with the ability to make a living reflecting in words on what matters most to me, rewarded and not punished for honesty and growth. Few countries in the world would allow for that kind of progression and mobility. The United States remains the land of promise and potential.
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