United We Stood: Remembering the American Spirit this September 11
After taking a trip to the 9/11 Memorial, Sara reflects on what was missing at the memorial site and what is missing today.
Every morning I wake up to a giant framed photograph of the New York City skyline. On the opposite wall in my bedroom a canvas showing off Central Park greets me. In my small, two bedroom flat, I have no less than 14 photos of my favorite city adorning my walls.
New York is art to me. A simple snapshot can bring on countless daydreams. Romantic ones. Successful ones. Awe inspiring ones. New York City is a place of dreamers and compound history. It's a place of tall state-of-the-art buildings built beside 200-year-old cobblestone roads. It's steel, it's green, it's red, it's white and it's blue.
But for a moment 11 years ago all that stopped. New York City wasn't a place dreams were made of, it was a place nightmares were scared of. Eleven years ago today every corner of the population was transfixed on the horrors unfolding. The lives lost. The questions unanswered. The world forever changed.
We all know what happened that day. The images are eternally etched into our memories, and a part of us still can't locate comprehension for the events in their totality. While the buildings burned and the people fell, planes crashed into the Pentagon and in an act of incredible valor, also Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
In the days proceeding September 11, 2001, as a nation we were lost and numb. To cope and survive we instinctively reached for something we all have as citizens of the greatest country in the world. We found solace in patriotism.
I remember taking daily drives with my husband then, up and down neighborhood streets all over southeastern Wisconsin. We drove in silence, each finding comfort in the rows of carefully placed American flags, the homemade signs of hope, and the unwavering unity.
Neighbors were no longer black or white, Christian or Jewish, Democrat or Republican. We were all simply Americans. United we stood. And although individually, we may not have ever been to New York City or to Washington D.C. or flew on a plane before, it didn't matter. The people who paid the ultimate price that day were one of us. American.
Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit my favorite place, New York. While there, we went to see the 9/11 Memorial. It was an interesting experience for me. I had been in New York several times after 9/11 and saw the construction progress. My first time in the city was three years after the attacks and I recall staring up in shock at the damaged surrounding buildings that still stood vacant and scarred. To see the memorial as it stands today, nearing completion, was amazing.
After having our free tickets scanned and going through strict airport-like security, which was a slap-in-the-face reminder how 9/11 changed everything as we know it, we maneuvered through a maze of chain link fencing to see the grounds spread out before us.
One of the two large reflecting pools drew us in. We each walked around it, in silent awe, tracing our gloved fingers over the etched names of the victims. We were hypnotized not only by the enormous waterfalls delineating the footprint of the buildings, but by the construction buzzing around us. The new Freedom Tower was watching over us, a sign of rebirth and resilience.
As I meticulously took in the memorial, snapping photos and doing my best to digest the enormity of where I stood, I noticed something was missing. I scanned the grounds when I spotted it. A lone American flag, flying atop a small structure we didn't have access too. I instantly took a photo of it. I felt that one flag needed to be memorialized on my camera. It alone, waving in its simple glory, stood for everything that the decade of work and hundreds of millons of dollars created behind me.
I wish the memorial would have remembered not only those who lost their lives in 1993 and 2001, but also the country who lost their innocence that day. The country who banded together and showed the world that despite the worst we have ever born witness to, we are one. United we stood.
Watching my Facebook and Twitter feeds in the days leading up to today, I feel as though the unity has worn thin. Instead of solemn remembrance today, I've been met with anger, conspiracy theories and finger pointing. Deeply divided statements of political opinion has not taken the day off. I feel this is a showing of the new America. One where our political affiliations define us more than our American citizenship and heritage. I wonder what 9/11 would be like today. Would we still ban together, a show of united force? Or would we angrily divide, each stepping away in fear of blame or retaliation from our own?
If there is one thing I could wish for today and for every September 11, it's that for one single day, we forget about party lines, speculations and that our fingers only point one way: to our left shoulders as we place our hands over our hearts. In remembrance of those who's lives ended September 11, 2001 and for the resolute resilience of the greatest country in the world.
As I was flying out of New York, the skyline illuminated in the window beside me, I realized something. The 9/11 Memorial is for those who lost their lives that day. The United States of America, from sea to shining sea and from the amber waves of grain to purple mountain majesties, this beautiful country, that is OUR memorial.
United we stand and may God forever bless America.