On September 11, 2001, I witness events that until that time I would not have believed to be possible. My life, my feelings, my beliefs, and my world have been changed forever. People I don't even know changed everything in my world in a matter of hours. For days I walked around in shock, feeling indescribable pain, sorrow, rage and hatred, never knowing where one emotion stopped and the other began. I felt as though someone was kicking me in the stomach and the pain ran all the way through to my heart.
With the passage of time, I can hopefully see things more objectively and less emotionally. This is one of the greatest pains I have ever felt. The people who did these terrible things are of a kind that I do not understand. I am sure they believe what they did to be right and justified, no one gives their life for something that they do not believe with all their heart. They see my country and my people with different eyes than I do. They see it as a nation who has supported ruthless dictators, such as the Shah of Iran, who killed whole families at will, and tortured many people. They see us as a nation who will back Israel, no matter what path she chooses to take, who supplies her with the technology and weapons to wreak havoc on those they see as innocent victims of an occupied land. They see us as a nation of infidels, a nation of Satan, who intruded upon their holy lands. I suppose that if I held these beliefs, I too, would also be filled with an undeniable amount of rage and hatred. I don't know why people are born into the place and time they are. I only know that by the grace of God, I was born in America to be an American, in what is likely the most prosperous and free society ever in history. I could have just as easily been born in a poor and war-torn country. I have tried to understand what kind of religion teaches people such hate and contempt for another human. In this statement I am not trying to condemn their beliefs only to understand a small part of Why?
I realize that now and from the earliest recorded history of this land we know as America, we have made many mistakes. I am aware that hundreds of years ago, when the Europeans first stepped foot on this soil, they did terrible things to the natives, atrocities that we cannot today imagine happening in our land. They killed and tortured to the point that some native tribes were forever erased from the face of the earth. We often skip over this part of our history, and many others. Maybe because we don't want to admit from where we truly came, and when we do recognize it, we simply say that it is the price that is sometimes paid for progress. Over the centuries this country and people have made many mistakes, often thinking they were doing the right and just thing. But usually over the course of time, we have always seen the error of our ways and sought to do better and often even try to compensate for our mistakes.
This does not imply that we may not still have a lot of misguided ideas and beliefs, just that we are willing to change when we realize our mistakes. Even with all the appalling events in our history, I still believe what we are now, and what we are capable of becoming, is significantly better than anyone, anywhere, else in the world has to offer. We did not start as the tolerant, free society we are today, but we did start a more free and tolerant society than any other at that time. We presented an opportunity to people all over the world to come to this new world and make a better life for themselves and their children. And they did come, from all over the world, the good, the oppressed, the minorities, the criminals, the slaves, and what at that time was considered to be the very scum of the earth. They are still coming today, to where they have more freedom and rights than anywhere else in the world. From the worst of humanity we have built the greatest nation in the world. We are the most tolerant, generous, moral, and forgiving, society ever. There is probably not a country or land in this world that someone has not ran away from, and to what we offer and stand for. We are not Arabs, or Jews, or Germans, or French, or Africans, or Mexicans, or any other nationality, we are Americans. If you really believe that you are any other nationality first, maybe you should go back to their land and their way of thinking. We have started a new race of people here, one that has the blood of the world flowing through it. How can we hate one another, when we are all the same race, a free race.
Being an American is not as easy, as some would believe. It is true our lives are comfortable and rich compared to many other countries. But there is a cost for this kind of life. We do not have the luxury of hating someone because of his or her color or religion or even sex. Being tolerant of others beliefs is not always easy, but it is a requirement of being an American. We have the right and freedom to live and believe as choose, just as long as it does not infringe on the rights or freedoms of someone else. But with these rights and freedom comes the responsibility to defend all Americans even if what they believe is something that disgusts you. After all, you are not defending any one belief, but the freedom to believe, anyway you choose.
We have a lot of faults in this country and often some of our citizens and even our own government does things that are not right, but we never claim to be perfect, just free to try to be. Sometimes our government does things that as a people we would never support, we are not always a government by the people and for the people. We are not always a true democracy, but we are the closest thing there is. We have come a long way in a little over two-hundred years, and we still have a long way to go. Our forefathers made a commitment to form a more perfect union, not a perfect one.
They made a commitment to the belief that all men are created equal even though at the time most of them owned slaves. They made a commitment to the belief that everyone had the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, even though at the time, women, blacks and Indians did not have the right to vote, only land owners had that right. So you see we have come a long way in a short time, but we still have a long way to go. Everyday that we get up and go to work and live our lives in a free society, every time we speak out against something because it is our right to do so, every time we support a cause we believe in with our time or our money, we make an effort at that perfect union we committed to, so many years ago. Every endeavor we make toward that union, no matter how small, has significance, but only if we keep going. If we stop now or we falter in our diversity it will all be in vain. As Americans we have made a commitment to the kind of country and society we want to live in and to bring our children up in.
As a result of this undertaking we have grown as a people and been blessed with much good fortune through the years. Americans rarely obligate themselves to anything except the very basis of our foundation as a nation. Our fore fathers were committed to this foundation during the revolutionary war. The Union committed itself during the civil war. Our fathers and our grandfathers made a commitment to fight for this ideal during WWII. We now have to make a commitment to fight those who would die to destroy our way of life. While we are not perfect, I believe that we are closer than those who have taken the lives of innocent people, even children, who never had the chance to make their own choices in life. This chance was taken from them by those that hated them simply because of who they where or might become. I am thankful that I cannot understand this kind of hate. While I do feel a hatred towards those that did this, I also feel pity for them, that they are so misguided and do not realize it. That is the difference between us and them, while we feel we are right and they feel they are, we have the capacity to see beyond right and wrong and see the human beings behind the beliefs, and regardless of the beliefs it does not make them any less valuable as human beings.
Now our time has come, our time to defend all that we have benefited from, all the freedoms, and our way of life that we have often taken for granted, all that many others have given their life for, that we now enjoy. We must make this commitment as so many have done in our history. We must fear this undertaking enough to take it seriously, but not enough to avoid it. Without a dedication and determination to defend our ideals and our freedom we will go no farther. We must persist in our commitment to these beliefs and ideals that has been our foundation for over two-hundred years, not just because of what we have and what we stand for, but for what we could be, and so that all the lives given over the years are not in vain.
We are the world and we are the hope for the future.
God bless us and watch over us now and always.
originally posted at the WriteGallery on February 24, 2002
© 2001 J.C. Haynes, all rights reserved
appears here by permission