Like many Americans, I am pausing today to remember the terrible events of 12 years ago. On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was driving cross-country, alone except for a dog and two cats. I woke up in North Platte, Nebraska and walked through hotel hallways to the breakfast room. On my way, I glanced at a TV screen in an empty meeting room and saw the terrible footage of the first plane hitting the first tower. The attack had just happened, and footage was being played over and over. No one else was in the room. I stopped, transfixed. People drifted in and stayed. Someone turned up the volume. More and more shocked watchers arrived, until the room was packed. Together, we watched the second plane hit the second tower. We all knew life would never again be the same. We all were traveling. We all had places to be. But we all shared an impulse to huddle together, trying to make sense of senseless events.
I wondered whether I should continue to my destination in Colorado. Should I return to Minnesota, where most of my family lived? A close family member happened to be in France, attending a business meeting. As it happened, planes were immediately grounded and it was some time before he could return home. But our personal problems were small compared to what happened to so many families.
In the aftermath, Americans shared an impulse to display our national flag everywhere. A friend of mine, Harriet Freiberger, has written an eloquent article describing her feelings about that time and about what our flag means. The article is in Steamboat Today, online at http://m.steamboattoday.com/news/2013/sep/10/harriet-freiberger-why-remember/.
Harriet writes, “Natural instincts magnetized our need for a cleansing antidote, and we found it in that piece of cloth with its red and white stripes and small white stars in a field of blue. For each of us the woven fabric symbolized something different, and, in that difference, lies the beauty of the good it represented.” She goes on to describe her grandfather arriving in New York City from Russia in 1904, and the meaning the flag has held for her family. “True,” Harriet writes, “the flag is only a piece of cloth, but we are in every stitch, and every stitch is connected to another. That is the good. Let us remember.”
We live in an interconnected world. Some of us are fortunate enough to see a lot of the more pleasant parts of that world. Others are trapped in places where they face constant danger from all sides. We Americans treasure our freedom, even as we acknowledge the good and the bad our country has done since its founding. I’m traveling soon. I’ll be an American, wherever I go.