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Stains and Memories

I get nervous around this Wednesday’s date, Sept. 11.
Last year, we had Hurricane Florence. Before that, in 2001, we had the 9/11
terrorist attacks.
It’s my father’s birthday; he would have been 86 that beautiful September morning
when everything changed. In a way, I’m thankful he died the previous May, since he
didn’t have to see what so many of us watched that morning.
I can’t help but remember Sept. 11, when I was getting ready to start a new job,
when Mother and I were going to visit Papa’s grave, when I planned to take the dogs
out for an afternoon along the banks of the Coharie River, after sharing lunch with
Rhonda at WRRZ.
We remember Sept. 11, 2018, too, but for different reasons. Florence was about to
hit us, and the first of the rains had started. Indeed, as the first raindrops fell, we
were saying goodbye to my beloved palomino mare, June. Sept. 11 ushered in a
period of days of worry and frustration, as waters rose and roads disappeared and a
thousand stories of tragedy and heroism were written in our communities.
We all remember how things changed that day. We can’t help but remember.
How many of us truly remember what happened the next day, while the fires were
just truly getting going in New York, as they were being extinguished in Washington,
and people were picking up pieces of an airplane in Shanksville, Pa.
We remember Sept 11 for different reasons—but I want to remember Sept. 12.
I want to remember the day when strangers reached out to strangers, even in the
little town where we lived at the time. I want to remember the way folks in
Washington truly reached across the aisle, linking arms, holding hands and singing
patriotic songs on the steps of the Capitol Building. It’s been a long time since
anyone linked arms with anybody in Congress, unless they were trying to prevent a
fistfight.
I want to remember the Sept. 12 when the Muslim family who ran a convenience
store in our town hung the biggest American flag they could find. The wife of one of
the men wept openly as she watched the footage on the television behind the
counter.
I want to remember the Sept. 12 when a tiny church (within sight of the
aforementioned store) opened its doors for anyone who wanted to come and pray.
The parking lot across the street was filled with more folks than had attended a
service there since the middle of the 19 th century, when the congregation had to
build a bigger church.
I want to remember the Sept. 12 when there were about a dozen young men waiting
outside the recruiter’s office in our town, shuffling their feet until the doors were
opened. I wish I had their names; I’d love to know what happened after they signed
up, and how many knew they were following the examples set by their grandfathers
in December of 1941.
I want to remember the Sept. 12 when we had a unity of purpose, a unity of people,
a unity that showed what America was and should be all about.
I want to see that love, that patriotism, that singularity of mind again. I wonder if it
we ever will.

You can blame whichever president you want; you can blame whichever party you
want. You can blame the Internet, smartphones, video games, gender-fluidity, pro-
life or pro-abortion, a weakened America versus a stronger America, climate change,
capitalism, theocracies, democracies, or anything you like. I really don’t care.
Yes, the war is still going on Afghanistan, and around the world. No, it’s not as easy
to define victory today as it was in 1945. I personally think that a lack of terrorist
attacks at home is a poor measure by which to measure victory, but it’s the only one
we have, and it became standard well before the current resident of Pennsylvania
Avenue.
I find it amazing that, in the lifetime of a high school senior, we have somehow as
Americans decided that sacrificing more of our freedoms and privacy is a key to
security. It makes absolutely no sense to me. I also find it strange that some people
cannot accept the fact that some folks will only sit down with the negotiator at the
table because they understand the size and strength of the dog the negotiator holds
on a very thin leash.
I want to remember a Sept. 12 when we marched in the streets to honor firefighters,
rescue workers and police officers, as opposed to people marching in the streets
calling for the death of cops. Black or white, red or yellow, we didn’t get our feelings
hurt when the wind blew. We were Americans. We had our problems, sure, but our
biggest problems were the people who showed us what they were willing to do to
hurt Americans, for no reason other than that they disliked our culture. Now we
have people who have never known anything but the benefits of being products of a
free American society who throw concrete blocks at firefighters and police officers,
tear down statues they don’t understand, and attack people with whom they
disagree. And we have people for whom the repugnant specter of racism has
become a new demi-dog, an excuse to wallow in their own selfish excuses for failure.
As we remember Sept. 11, 2001, I want to remember Sept. 12, 2001, back when for a
little while, we were all hurting, we were all angry, but we were all Americans.
Just as I fervently pray the day is coming that al Quaida and the Taliban will be
either wiped from the face of the Earth, or brought into the 21 st century under new
leaders, I hope we can someday regain that love of America and Americans we had
on Sept. 12, 2001.
Unless we can once again find that unity, the cowards and vermin who crashed
those planes on Sept. 11 have won, without even knowing it, and all the blood, sweat
and tears shed by patriots for more than 225 years before what we call Patriot’s Day
will be nothing but stains and memories of the America we could have once again.

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