On this day 14 years ago, the lives of 2,977 civilians – of various genders, ethnicity, religions and sexual orientations – lost their lives in an act so senseless that it brought an entire nation closer. We came together as one community to hope for survivors, mourn for our dead and help those who searched tirelessly through the ruins of the attacks. We did not care if we were Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, religious or not; on that day and for several days after we were all American. Not only was it one of the darkest days of our country, but one of the moments in the history of the United States where I could honestly say I was proud to be an American. It was a day the founding members of this country had hoped for.
14 years later, I feel the lessons and experiences we had together as one nation were never fully learned. The people of the US, who we wish other nations would emulate, are more fractured than they ever were. We lost an innocence that day, only to replace it with fear and mistrust. We have become so polarized that we no longer can hope for an earnest dialogue to resolve fissures in our communities. Vitriol, ideology and mistrust have now become a mainstay of our daily lives. And every day we become even more divided, unable to show understanding or respect for one another. Yet, we do nothing to change it; we choose to either ignore it or become venomous towards anything that differs from our beliefs. All while the US, along with other nations of the world, currently fight an enemy who believes their ideology is the only way; the same behavior we exhibit to one another everyday. And we fight not with an understanding as to why these fanatical, oppressive individuals feel the way they do, but with hatred and anger in our hearts.
My question is this: How can we be proud of ourselves as Americans? We can’t, pure and simple. How can an entire nation fail 2,977 people who died as members of our community – not to mention the countless first responders or soldiers who fought for not just our freedom, but for others as well – and had done so in vain? Their passing brought us together in one moment as one nation that is only remembered one day a year. How can we have let their memory down by becoming so fragmented and visceral towards each other on a daily basis? How would they react seeing what the nation has become in their wake?
My only hope, which is fleeting with each passing year, is that we finally come to our senses as a community. That we understand that not all Muslims are terrorists. That the lives of Blacks, Hispanics, Arabs, Asians and Native Americans matter just as much as Whites. That those who are Gay, Lesbian and Transgender are just as human and equal as those who are heterosexual. That it is not just a Christian belief to help the less fortunate. That we can be constructive in discussions among ourselves, and deal with whatever issues that plague us as a people. That we can be united in this grand experiment known as Democracy, even when we differ in opinion. That we can all stand together, side by side with one another equally, and be one nation as those who signed the Declaration of Independence intended 239 years ago.
Only when this occurs can we honestly, without a shadow of a doubt, be proud to be American. Only then could this war on what is known as terror be won. And most importantly, only then would we have infinite possibilities to not only progress our community, but the world as well.