Cornflowers blooming, field corn tasseling, crisp evenings. A time of year to be relished. I was an Educator . . . September . . . the beginning of another school year, a fresh start, a rebirth of hope. A panoply of young people and children, some eager to learn, some not so eager would be entering my life. Those were events that marked more than three decades of my life and I never tired of them. I loved those things and when the time came when I no longer responded to bells of the schoolroom I still took joy in seeing those beauteous little flowers, the golden tassels on the corn and the big yellow busses hauling their loads of the future.
Then a terrible day came which gave an altogether different meaning to those golden days of fall. September 11, 2001. Cornflowers, corn tassels,and big yellow busses were forgotten as I watched the workings of pure evil visiting our country. So much died along with those martyred people, unwilling victims of religion gone mad. And yet – for an all-too-brief period of time something beautiful was born out of the twisted steel and bloodstained wreckage of what had been two soaring edifices of Man’s creativity. A wave of solidarity, brotherhood and charity swept over the land uniting us as a country of Americans in a way that I had seen once before. That was a cold wintry Sunday in a long-ago December when evil had also destroyed so many lives – December 7, 1941.
But on this fall day of 2001 something new entered our consciousness. WE were vulnerable right here on our own beloved soil. Innocent civilians had deliberately been targeted by purveyors of evil such as we had never before seen. Where we had walked our streets, visited our airports, and driven past electrical generating plants which had been as open and welcoming as our maiden aunt’s home, our eyes now beheld stern-faced policemen and women and National Guardsmen all with weapons at the ready. Barricades sprung up where trespass had never before been forbidden.
Yet, we were also now seeing the emblem of our country, the beautiful Stars and Stripes for which so many soldiers have died waving from makeshift staffs and recently-purchased attachments for our car windows. It seemed we were smiling, yes, somewhat grimly, but nonetheless lovingly acknowledging our brotherhood with others we met on the streets and in our stores. Even courtesy, which had been a rare commodity in so many instances, had a renaissance of sorts. We were Americans. We had been attacked. Something of great value had been snatched with maximal evil intent from us and we were reacting as members of a close-knit family do when their sanctity is threatened.
I had seen this once before when I was a young boy and what I saw in those days was imprinted forever on my mind. What I felt then has stayed in my memory “We were Americans! We were invincible. We could do anything, absolutely anything" because we were united in one consuming effort. And through five terrible years of bloodshed and anguish we prevailed. We defeated the greatest evil to visit the world since the days of Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and their hordes.
But I was seeing this first September of the new millennium as an old man. Knowing what had happened when we were attacked in 1941, seeing the same response from my fellow citizens, and hearing our president say to our Congress with respect to other countries, “If they are not for us, they are against us,” hope flared up within me. America would prevail. This new evil would be ground under our heel just as it had been fifty years earlier. We rallied around the battle cry: “Let’s Roll!”
Something different was now in the air, though. Whereas in mid-twentieth century our resolve lasted through many years of anguish, loss and sacrifice, I soon saw the resolve of 2001 being swallowed up by partisan politics, self-titillation and shallow-minded charity. It seemed the evil that had destroyed those magnificent towers had gained a foothold in our collective consciousness. The patriotism that had been so admired in the early years of the 1940’s was now being viewed in many quarters as somehow another kind of evil. Identifying our common enemy was no longer acceptable. Loud voices were saying we must coexist.
And for me, that is the greatest tragedy, the most grievous blow of 9/11. Evil arose with the smoke and ashes of those towers and spread across our land: dividing us, weakening our resolve, and rendering us vulnerable. Flags disappeared, smiles melted, resolve faltered.
How I wish the generation that stirred us and sustained us through the long years of World War II could somehow arise and inspire us. But perhaps, like me, our nation has grown old and can no longer accomplish the great things that characterized it in the past.
We age, we grown infirm, and we pass off the world stage.
Sic Semper . . . .