It opens today, the 9/11 Memorial. I'm watching the opening service, where family members read the names of those who died, a liturgy made of missing lives and a mournful fugue by Yo-Yo Ma. It's heartbreaking to see the kids, most of whom who are now young teenagers, who've been denied the love of their mothers and fathers for a decade now.
The Memorial itself is breathtaking, an endless waterfall into a deep pool, surrounded by the nearly 3,000 names of those who died that day, who died for simply being American. We see the families as they walk into the plaza for the first time, hunting for their loved ones. They react, simply and quietly, when they find a beloved name: they reach out and touch it.
I'm struck, as the names are read, by how many family members are themselves New York City firefighters and police officers, by the depth of the bonds of honor, service and duty that exist in a city that many think of as being huge and faceless. Then I hear one father say " ... and my son, Welles Remy Crowther, the man in the red bandana."
If you haven't heard Welles' story, watch this lovely short video by ESPN. Why ESPN? Because Welles was a lacrosse star at Boston College. He was a securities trader who really wanted to be a New York City firefighter. He always carried a red bandana. And he was responsible for saving at least 12 people in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, despite the fact that he could have left the building at any time, and survived.
When I hear Welles' story, and the story of Flight 93, the tales of the first responders who entered the buildings with no fear, who died while rescuing their fellow countrymen, I'm saddened.
What did they die for? For fights over the debt ceiling? For a banking system that profiteers while denying working capital to small businesses? So politicans could stand up and say that hurricanes and earthquakes are the result of sinful living?
I don't think the men and women who helped each other that day gave a rat's ass about who had health insurance, who was married to whom, whether or not the person they hauled out of the building was a "real" American. All they cared about was the fact that their fellow travelers, human beings who were attacked for simply being alive, needed help.
I want to live in the country that those folks come from. The one where we care about each other, where our differences are valued, not maligned, where (to paraphrase), a man is not judged by the contents of his wallet, but by the content of his character.
We've blown it, my friends. We squandered the chance to make ourselves stronger, instead opted for a catfight about meritocracy and special interests. We can fix it, if we try. But it involves calling our elected representatives -- and those who desire to be our elected representatives -- on their shit. It involves not devolving to personal attacks on those who hold differing opinions, who worship different gods, who have more melanin in their skins. It involves remembering the very words that our founding fathers (and mothers) adopted in an act of Congress in 1782: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
Not one out of those who think like me. Not one out of those who "deserve" it. Not one out those who worship my god. Out of many, one.
I leave you with the words of the formidable Archibald MacLeish:
"There are those who will say that the liberation of humanity, the freedom of man and mind is nothing but a dream. They are right. It is the American Dream."
Don't give up on the dream.