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September 11, 2009

Nine Eleven

There are a million places to read on the internet about politics and I have never felt a need to write about all that, mostly because I prefer to debate the merits of new brands of cat litter and whether or not I should finally make the switch from a plain old moisturizer to one of those fancy anti-aging creams. Decisions, decisions.

My parents and I have totally opposite political beliefs. It is because of this great ideological divide in my own family that I believe with ardent fervor there are good, decent and smart people on either end of the spectrum. I do not need people to believe what I believe. And to their unending credit, my parents have never tried to change me. They accepted early on that I often held the completely opposite viewpoint and we made jokes about it and they just let me be me. They have teased me to no end and sometimes we cannot talk about certain topics without rolling our eyes at each other, but in the end we respect each other. We share the desire to make our nation the finest and most decent place we can.

I am so happy and grateful to be an American girl. I love travel and I love my diverse and multi-ethnic adopted city and when I'm abroad I want to represent my country well to everyone I meet. I am not a xenophobic flag-waver and never have been, but I also never once backed away from saying I am an American, even when I traveled after the first months of the Iraq war when many people in other places were openly hostile about it. I remember being cornered in a bar in Reykjavik by two women who were enraged about the war and I just listened and told them that many Americans shared their feelings and felt frustration and anger, too. In the end I bought us all a round of drinks and one of the girls laughed and said, "It might be easier for you to say you're Canadian, you know!"

But I have never lied about being an American. I was in France two weeks after the stupid Freedom Fries thing and I was mightily tempted to all-the-sudden be from Manitoba, but I still told people where I was from when they asked.

To me, patriotism is being kind and open and welcoming and always propagating The Dream. I believe that our nation is a hopeful and optimistic place that one can come to and work hard and make a life and live better. My father is the embodiment of the American dream, and even though I know he is sometimes disillusioned with our politics, he is also someone who instilled in me a love for my nation, my neighborhood, and my work. My father taught me to look up, to look forward, to strive. My older brother Guy is also the American Dream, he has started over more times than I can count and worked his way up that ladder every time. I admire him because he never gives up, to me he embodies our national spirit.

After September 11th, when the anniversary of the events rolled around one year later, I was horrified that I would be expected to get up and get dressed and go to work that day and each and every September 11th from then on. I desperately felt we needed to make it a national day of mourning, a day of quiet and reverence and personal grief. I felt a lot of grief that day, I lost someone on that first plane and like many I also forever lost my sense of safety and my naive belief in the integral decency of others. I was furious that someone -- many someones -- could move here and work here and shop for groceries here for months, years, and then one day get on an airplane and create such evil.

I took September 11th very personally. I was angry, I was bereft, I was broken in half. I wanted that day to be forever silenced and remembered and held in your hands gently. I divided my life into pre-9/11 and post 9/11.

Enough time has passed now that I think I understand even more what it means to be an American citizen. It means to keep on keeping on, to move onward and remember without becoming mired in paralyzing sadness and regret. It means to remain optimistic and hopeful and to strive to become better. This nation is not perfect and never will be. We screw up. We're imperfect. But we don't give up.

I was very happy to see that September 11th is being commemorated in a new way -- today is the first National Day of Service and Remembrance.

The New York Times has a piece on it, this jumped out at me:

By joining with those already planning to take all or part of the day to aid their chosen cause or charity, Americans can show their patriotism and help recapture the spirit of community that saw so many people volunteer to help the families who lost loved ones in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 horror.

This to me is the real essence of our American character, giving back, giving to others, giving forward. Much better than a day of mourning -- it's a day of helping. It's a way to remember and honor and give at the same time, which truly is the best of us.

If you are looking for places to volunteer at today specifically in honor of September 11th, visit http://911dayofservice.org/ or visit http://www.serve.gov/ for a list of opportunities to serve at all times in your area.

Posted by laurie at September 11, 2009 8:56 AM