And, even though my memories of the following days aren’t nearly as vivid, I remember one thing very clearly.
There were American flags everywhere.
They were flying on private homes. They adorned t-shirts and other articles of clothing. And they were fluttering on moving vehicles.
I found this fascinating. Not just because I’d never before seen American flags flying on automobiles as though they were paraphernalia for a sports team, but because the flags were so easily damaged, which seemed to defeat the purpose of flying them.
As a child in Girl Scouts, I remember being taught all the rules about how to handle and treat a flag. As a young adult, I remembered the national debate over the issue of defacing and even burning flags as a sign of protest.
And yet, in the days after 911, people were damaging their flags in the name of patriotism.
At the time, I wasn’t particularly upset by this phenomena; I simply found it interesting. But now, ten years later, the tattered flags represent something much greater to me: while America initially came together after 9 11, we’ve since been tearing apart – kind of like those flags waving on the cars.
I think that’s because some people equate patriotism with pride, pride with winning and winning with defeating an enemy.
There have been and always will be plenty of enemies to our country, we don’t need to be creating them.
But some people seem intent on doing so by pointing fingers at immigrants, people with different religious beliefs, people with different political ideas, people who are poor, etc. The list goes on and on.
Each time fingers point, I hear the American flag rip a bit more. That’s because our flag represents a country that was founded by immigrants. A country that welcomed people who didn’t have the same religious beliefs as the establishment. A country that encouraged diverse ways of thinking. A country that has a rich tradition of helping those who are down on their luck.
As the tenth anniversary of September 11 draws to a close, I hope that people focus not only on all the lives that were lost on that horrible day but also on the possibilities that we initially found that day.
The possibility that we could come together as a country to help each other.
The possibility that we were better united than we are divided.
The possibility that we use our diverse strengths to support each other rather than to tear each other down.
The possibility that we live can live up to ideals represented by our flag: a flag that may be a bit torn and ripped but still stands for a compassionate, caring and idealistic country.
A flag we can all fly with pride.