U.S. still strong after Sept. 11

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Five years ago, along with my country, I became an intended victim.

Hatred penetrated my living room walls. Two dozen young men did what I can only imagine, to passengers and pilots of four jet planes, then proceeded on a mission of destruction. Flaming building by flaming building, the day unfolded on the screen in front of me. Unlike a giant puzzle where a thousand pieces fit together, nothing set right in my mind; instead, death loomed in distorting, convulsing ugliness.

Today, when I allow it all to come back into view, the same disoriented feeling compels me to reach for my husband's hand and call my daughter to say I love her.

Now, understanding hatred in a new way, I marvel at my country's ability to withstand a frontal assault.

Something remarkable happened after Sept. 11. We Americans had witnessed the deliberate, unflinching murder of three thousand people who might have been any of us. In our grief, we connected with true care and concern, and a with reinforced trust.

Partisan politics, for a brief moment, came to a screeching halt, and a refreshing wind ruffled stripes of red and white - on streets around the world. When, in the next century, our great-great-grandchildren look back on history, they will be living with the effects of that day. It is up to us to make sure all we have thus far enjoyed exists for them.

Even as we differ as to how we want to respond to those who target us for death, such discussion speaks to the difference between ourselves and those who instigated events of Sept. 11. Americans, possessing freedom, can participate in decision making, something too many of us take for granted. No, we haven't yet solved all our problems, but we have opportunity, and we have choices. We can do what we want with our lives, a privilege unavailable to those who live where intimidation governs.

With questions stymied, distrust hardens into closed-mindedness. Deep-seated fear, of anything and everything different, ultimately narrows into helplessness and finally into hatred of that which is feared. Out of such an environment, our attackers erupted.

We, however, proving the validity of freedom's tenets, are not afraid. We live and work and play as we always have. We reject hatred, refuse to allow its blows to shadow our days. We do, however, recognize our kinship with men and women whose lives terrorists ended that Tuesday morning, and we join their families in sadness. In memory of all who died on Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has declared Patriot Day.

Honoring them will surely require more than waving a flag. Rather we must regain that sense of unity we experienced five years ago, get past unproductive divisiveness which prevents our seeing the very real danger our assailants pose. To be a patriot in America is to support the hope offered by our Constitution, which rests upon an optimistic conviction of individuals' ability to achieve a better future. Two hundred years of history support my belief in that future, and, obviously, too, the beliefs of some half million naturalized citizens who enter our midst every year.

To stay focused on the future, we need to look into our attackers' eyes and see clearly those who would force their way into our lives. Their planes crashed into our living rooms, demolished the Twin Towers, and left a hole in the Pentagon, but they failed to make us victims. Instead, they have enlightened us with clearer vision and renewed our appreciation of each other. We return to what we felt that Tuesday morning, when we touched the hand of a loved one, smiled in an understanding way at the next person in line at the grocery store, and helped a stumbling stranger. We CAN unite, see past our differences, holding onto the dream that is America.

We have not and shall not become victims. We remember.

Harriet Freiberger is a Steamboat Springs resident.

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