September 11, 2001: Remembrance Means More than a Hashtag

Anyone who knows me has to understand that I rarely bring up politics in polite conversation. I just don’t see the point of arguing deep-seated belief systems with someone on the other side of the divide. A lot of words and rhetoric with no definitive purpose, all such bickering serves to achieve is to further entrench both positions behind defensive walls so thick that the truth never stands a chance of shining through.

That said, should any of that matter on a day like today? Do we really feel content posting a picture of a flag and a hashtag, #neverforget, and then immediately carrying on with the insanity that’s become our daily lives? A commemorative post is not communion. It isn’t confession. It doesn’t absolve us of the rampant irresponsibility to which this nation has fallen victim.

Floodlights shine up from Ground Zero at the 9/11 World Trade Center site in downtown Manhattan New YorkFourteen years ago today, each and every one of us was attacked on a scarring and personal level. Many lost their lives while the rest of us lost any semblance of innocence we had previously harbored. And look at us today. I don’t point fingers at individuals but at our society as a whole. We type out #neverforget like a half-minded signum crucis laid across our chest before reclaiming positions of hatred and vitriol against our closest neighbors. Against ourselves.

We shake our fists at those extremist Muslims while celebrating backwater zealots for placing pseudo-Christian “values” ahead of the civil law of our land. It’s becoming almost impossible not to choke on the stench of irony. But hey, let’s #neverforget the poisonous virtues of those damn foreigners who weaponized their religion to attack our freedoms. Thank goodness that could never happen here at home.

We champion buffoons for president, not because they’re qualified or even for what they represent, but specifically because their lack of qualification offers the mindless masses a breath of fresh air. We love them not for who they are. Apparently, it’s become enough to vote for who they’re not. He’s not black and he’s not a woman, so he’s already got the caveman vote. And hey, he’s willing to say things that only an unstable narcissist would dare say. Let’s not bother ourselves with what’s best for our country. Let’s elect him just to see him stir up the system! And #neverforget what made this country great. Then again, given the circus we’ve created in the wake of 9/11, maybe a clown is exactly the leader we need.

Maybe there’s a difference between “not forgetting” and actually remembering. Remembrance is not a date printed in red on our calendar. It isn’t twenty-four hours out of the year where we feign an internal peace more for our well-being than our nation’s. Remembrance is every day or it’s nothing at all. We remember by honoring the memories of those lost. We remember by not only finding our individual dignity but by broadcasting it to those around us—those with different skin, different faiths, and different views on what it means to love another. We remember with tolerance and a drive to bridge the gaps, not by driving the wedge deeper. We remember by becoming better as a nation, not worse. By celebrating women without denigrating. By refuting the stereotypes of color bias through positive actions that others might mimic. By denying all those who serve a corrupt personal agenda in favor of equality.

We do not honor and remember by returning to the lives we lived on September 10, 2001. We had plenty of problems then, too. We do so by rising up to those who would criticize our way of life and prove them wrong about what lies in our hearts. We are not a nation of red vs. blue states. Or black vs. white communities. Or even rich neighborhoods vs. poor. To boil two hundred years of greatness down to such polar indicia is brainwashing at its absolute finest. Break free of the stigma, not only as a showing of 9/11 etiquette but tomorrow as well. And next week. What once made this country so special can do so again. But not until we shed the ties of propaganda and embrace the very diversity that made us a beacon to the rest of the world.

I believe I know the real America, the one those terrorists never bothered to see. Nor, I suspect, did they care to. It’s not a nation of rhetoric awaiting its once and future king. It’s not a nation of bigotry, despite those precious few of every color who might try to market it otherwise. It’s not a nation of oppression to be led by those who fear progress.

For all the wrong turns we may have taken, the bad guys did not break us. They merely sowed the seed of self-destruction. Only we can nurture it. And for some inexplicable reason, it seems we have. Perhaps it’s time we heed the wake-up call and stop making enemies of ourselves. There are plenty of those outside the gates already. If we can’t practice our beliefs without hurting those around us, then maybe it’s time to question our beliefs. If we can’t love a person because their skin looks different than our own, then maybe we’re missing the concept of love.

Continued intolerance fueled by religious strong-arming and fearmongering bias invariably leads to one outcome. Violence. It’s precisely that hateful intolerance that struck at our collective soul fourteen years ago today. It doesn’t take drum circles and group hugs to prove we’re better than that in return. It simply takes a single stride by each of us toward the middle ground of acceptance. For once, let’s stop assuming we know the darkness that lurks in the hearts of those unlike us. We don’t. Nor can we know the good and decency inside them until we brave the unknown to learn.

Psychoses and conspiracy theories aside, 9/11 remains not a viable condemnation of our Western decadence but a commentary on the dangers of unchecked intolerance stoked by propaganda, misguided rage, and a peaceful religion mutated beyond recognition by those who would seek to use its teachings to target others. Maybe truly remembering means learning from lessons of the recent past. Maybe the only good to come on that day was a glimpse into the face of evil so that we might never make the mistake of becoming it.

It isn’t the blacks or the cops or the heathens or the gays that threaten the decay of our greatness. It’s the capitalization on fear by the ruthless. One way or another, we all play a role. Support the erosion or help nurture the healing. #Neverforget, the choice is always ours.

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