Never forget, they say. But I long for the day we can forget…
Forget the fear that gripped our hearts as we watched images that made no sense
Forget the horror of watching so many lives lost, so many families ripped apart
Forget the helplessness we felt in the chaos and when the dust finally settled
Because I long for a day when we can remember so much more.
Remember American lives are not more valuable than others
Remember the nations and cities that experience terrorism all too regularly
Remember our policies and actions in the decades prior to 2001
Remember the hatred that shaped our actions in the decade following
Even as we honor and remember the thousands of victims and the individual women and men whose actions were selfless and courageous, we must leave behind the myth of our nation as innocent victim, and stop positioning ourselves as the world’s savior or hero. Our past and present make clear that we are so much more complicated than either of those images.
I wonder if we can’t look honestly at ourselves in these moments because it would require us to look honestly at our history. At the genocide and slavery on which our country was founded. At the oppression that marked the treatment of immigrants, women and children for generations. At the doublespeak and flat out racism that have kept white people in power and sought to dehumanize others who are unable or unwilling to assimilate. For generations, these shameful stories were silenced or muted, thus we have been unable (and even now may be unwilling) to confess and heal and move forward.
Perhaps these thoughts are less overtly patriotic than some would prefer on September 11. But I write these words because I want my country to reflect what I see in our people when we are at our best…the compassion, the hospitality, the honesty, the fierce loyalty.
I see these things most clearly in people who have taken the time to know themselves, confess their messiness and capacity for evil, and then strive toward the still more excellent way of love. I see this potential in people from every faith tradition and those who doubt and those who are rock-solid atheists.
What a grand social experiment it would be to learn together how to see each person we meet as equally worthy of dignity, hope, respect and success. I dare say, that is the sort of exceptionalism I might be able to get behind.