Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What is America to Me? – Remembering September 11th

"The faces that I see,
All races and religions,
That's America to me.”

In these most partisan of times, in these times when even what it means to be an American is being determined by petty party politics and anger, we honor those whose sacrifice and whose bravery and courage and conviction truly define the word - American.  An American is not white or black or brown or yellow.  An American is not a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim or a Sikh or a Hindu or an Atheist.  An American is not a Republican, a Democrat, a Conservative, a Liberal, a Libertarian or an Independent – an American is all of those things and more. An American is not even necessarily born within the borders of our 50 states. We can let the worst of us – the biased, the bigoted, the blowhards – the radio talk show hosts, the TV pundits, those in power who are willing to sink to the lowest of levels just for one additional vote – divide us; or we can look to the best of us, to those who displayed authentic patriotism, to those who lost loved ones and to those very loved ones who have left us – and allow them to unite us.  Let’s reject those prophets of doom who make profit from doom.

Today, I also commend my fellow New Yorkers who behaved so boldly, calmly and resolutely. We came together, we pulled together and we supported each other - as we always do - we of the most diverse population in the nation, if not the world - we of every language, religion, culture, and ethnic background - we who join as one, time and again because our differences aren’t a weakness but our greatest strength. We may in some ways be dissimilar but ultimately we are the same - with our regard, our respect, our embracing of our differences and the eventual melding of them that makes us the richest and strongest culture in the word. It is the might and power of our diversity that bonds us and makes us above all - New Yorkers. Some express distaste when faced with unfamiliar garb and tradition and language; but when I stroll 8th avenue and, within just a few blocks, hear a multitude of tongues being spoken, I smile in appreciation of the rich, wonderful variety of peoples and customs and beliefs that I am so fortunate to live among,

Every American has their own stories and their own remembrances - memories of that horrific day are not in short supply - so I will share but a few, brief personal reflections.
I think of the visiting firefighter from West Virginia that I met in a souvenir store in Times Square - he was searching for a pleasant memento of his trip, perhaps to help balance the very unpleasant recollections he would be taking home with him from the sad site where he was valiantly voluntarily toiling. He was in New York to try to save lives, he was in this shop to bring a home a Big Apple snow globe, I was there in search of an American flag pin. And all I could think to say was to express my sincere thanks. Right now, our nation seems divided unlike any time since the Civil War, but on that day he wasn’t from a red state, I wasn’t from a blue state, we were from the United States, and unfortunately that feeling appears all but lost.

For days I couldn’t tear myself away from the 24-hour news coverage - initially watching it mostly with a feeling of absolute disbelief which, when acceptance of the events finally sunk in, changed first into sadness and sorrow, but then into a seething rage. I found myself feeling an intense and ugly anger, a pure blinding hatred, a desire for reaction and revenge - done swiftly and even violently - that I had never experienced before and have not since. At times while watching the events on television, my eyes would well with tears, not necessarily tears of grief, but rather tears of rage. Not an uncommon reaction I imagine and one that would explain the outpouring of pent-up relief and jubilation that followed the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. People may criticize the joyous reactions of many Americans, but it was a genuine and necessary release, one long overdue and one needed for the continued healing of our nation.

Returning to thoughts of New York,  I want to conclude with two quotes taken from a conversation on an episode of “the Chris Matthews Show” that nicely address some of the special nature of my metropolis and its exceptional inhabitants - in this case, of course,  in relation to September 11th.

Howard Fineman, Huffington Post - “Even right near Ground Zero and all over New York today, New York is alive more than ever, that is the Mecca for everybody on the East Coast, for every kid from all over the United States and still from around the world. The sense of creativity and possibility in NY remains undiminished.”

Jamie Tarabay, an Australian-born journalist from the National Journal, “The first time I arrived in America…I landed in New York and I went down to Ground Zero and I met New Yorkers and it just struck me how Al Qaeda had basically picked the wrong place, they picked on the wrong people. They just didn’t understand the mentality of New Yorkers… they are themselves, they are unique to this country… New Yorkers were like, ‘is that it. Is that all you’ve got? We are going to move on, we are who we are, and we are going to continue.’”

In tribute to the heroes and victims of that dreadful day, and to my fellow Americans – Frank Sinatra and “The House I Live In.”

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