I was on my way to work when my mom called and asked if I'd seen the news.
Then I did. It was still a freak accident at that point. Some navigational error. . . terrorism was still just a question, a long shot hypothesis.
And then the other plane hit. And then the other plane hit. And then the other plane crashed.
And suddenly, everything felt very important and very superficial all at the same time. I went into work, but they closed the store. I remember there was an irate customer, furious that we weren't open. After all we were in Utah, the attacks were on the other side of the country.
But that morning, we were all in New York City. We were all at the Pentagon. We were all on a field in Pennsylvania. And it felt like we were all bleeding together in a stunned, shaking, dusty silence.
I've heard it said that it would be wonderful if we could reclaim the America that was on September 12th. The America that lined up to donate blood, that hugged strangers, that wept with firemen.
But, you get both ends of the stick when you make wishes like that. We only became the America of September 12th after the trials of September 11th. If you want to pick up the stick of magnamity and compassion, then you also pick up the stick of painful humanity. People don't accidentally become compassionate.
Noone wants another attack. But, we do have an opportunity to have another September 12th. The events of 9-11 happened in just a few hours, though they have resonated for 20 years.
And now, we are in a space where a virus, an election, murders, and riots have torn us apart again and again and again. It isn't as simple as watching towers fall and coming together in the wake. It means loving someone who wears a different hat. It means seeing your story in someone who prays to a different God. It means holding fast to what you believe while respecting someone who believes in something fundamentally different.
That is the story of America. We didn't declare our freedom so that we could cultivate a powerhouse of a country where everyone thought the same, worshipped the same, protested the same, or dressed the same. We declared our freedom because we demanded the right to disagree respectfully.
We've lost the respectfully part.
It all didn't matter when there was smoke and ashes in the air. Can it not matter again? Can it not matter how someone votes or prays? Can it not matter if they wear a mask or don't? Can it not matter what bathroom or pronoun they use? Can we simply see a human before us as a set of layered stories that resemble our own far more than we think? We do not have to agree, condone, or even understand.
But, we can stand in line for them, for each other, and for America.