There is reason to step back into the sadness and hurt of 12 years ago, to bring back the gut feeling so many of us shared that September morning. As bad as what was taking place in New York City became, we looked up at an American flag and saw something good. That good is the reason we must remember.
For one brief moment, the difference between good and bad became clear, witnessed via television cameras across the world. No “surrender and stay alive” warning alerted those who were intentionally murdered Sept. 11, 2001, no opportunity to acquiesce to killers’ demands and thereby save their lives. Murder occurred with malice aforethought.
Natural instincts magnetized our need for a cleansing antidote, and we found it in that piece of cloth with its red and white stripes and small white stars in a field of blue. For each of us the woven fabric symbolized something different, and, in that difference, lies the beauty of the good it represented.
So today, I think about our freedom to have our own idea of what is good — for ourselves as individuals, and for all of us who live together in communities large and small. For me, it is something my parents and grandparents saw as “America.” The timbre of their voices changed when they said the word. I can feel them with me whenever I lift a silver wine cup and my fingers touch the Russian assayer’s mark. Only slightly larger than my thumb, the small memento of my grandfather’s past recalls his passage across the Atlantic. He was 21 years old when the ship landed at New York City, and he took those first steps toward joining the millions before him who became part of America. That was 1904.
My grandparents, their children and their children’s children, myself included, have joined all the men and women who, during the past 237 years, have created enlarging freedom. In spite of many mistakes during our country’s adolescence and childhood, America is an adult now, a full-fledged nation among nations, and we, its people, accept responsibility for who and what we are. While we have stumbled over our differences, the path forward has continued. When we looked at the flags flying amid smoke and ashes in New York City, each of us felt the impact and the urgency of our personal America.
Writers of the Constitution constructed a strong bond among us. Their words have become part of what we believe to be true and good — a valid basis for our government, implementing protection against tyranny, from outside foreign interests and from internal majorities who would impose their will upon those who disagree. Through amendment, treaty, adjudication and legislation, interpretation of “equal” has expanded to include women, American Indians, individuals of various colors, religions and sexual orientation, 18-year-olds, non-owners of property and even illiterates. They are proof of our hope for the future.
Even now, as we respond to clear evidence of what is bad in a place beyond our borders, our responses reflect our desire to protect not only ourselves but also others. Our differences define us. What we call America is within each of us, the promise of freedom to be what we are and say what we think. We can disagree on almost everything, but returning to that gut feeling of pride which we experienced 12 years ago, we shall stand together, in admiration of our differences. True, the flag is only a piece of cloth, but we are in every stitch, and every stitch is connected to another. That is the good. Let us remember.
Harriet Freiberger has been a resident of Routt County’s Elk River Valley since 1982.