Every adult American remembers where he or she was on 9/11. What you may not recall is that the following Friday was deemed a day of patriotism, and citizens were encouraged to wear their red, white, and blue to show support for all who had perished in the attacks. That day, I took my camera and two rolls (yes, rolls) of film and drove around the county, snapping photos of homes that had otherwise never flown flags in their yards, of cars and trucks and humans decorated in American colors, and it made my heart swell to see such pride.
It wasn’t a common enemy that we shared; it was the mutual sense of loss, that life as we knew it was over, and even the young ones who had never experienced a world war or the Cold War knew that the security we had always known was gone forever. People who didn’t know us wanted to kill us on our own soil, and they didn’t mind losing their own lives in the process. And we didn’t get it. Who would serve a “god” that wanted them to kill strangers? And why kill innocent civilians instead of soldiers, prepared for war? Who was the Taliban? It was sick and evil, and so were the men who perpetrated it.
But on that day, the Walmart, the Tractor Supply–all stores big and small–sported flags. Now if you don’t live in America, you might think they always have flags up. They don’t. That’s because Americans aren’t allowed to feel pride. Every nation’s peoples should have the right to feel proud of the land where they were born. But not us. We’re supposed to feel guilty for every wrong ever perpetuated in the last two hundred years, nevermind any victory in a world war. Nevermind that we donate billions in aid to other countries, including ones that despise us. No, we’re not perfect, but our land is not full of hate, of people who seek to destroy other nations. This is a land with a history of welcoming immigrants who have been persecuted by their own people.
But on that Friday, we didn’t have to apologize for being born American. It was even permissible to have faith.
What I don’t get is how brief that period of patriotism lasted, how quickly people reverted to their own lives, how little unity meant. No, these pictures aren’t World Trade Center passersby, covered in ash, and they aren’t pictures of planes plowing into buildings. They are just a window in time during that one week in a small town, where it was “allowable” to mention God, allowable to love the United States, and every soul felt the tangible sadness of the tragedy, from large home to small.
From barbeque marquis to cardboard signs…
from lamppost to balloon…
from lumber store to hardware store…
and of course, churches.
I spotted this woman in the Walmart parking lot.
And as the sun set that day, I saw gratitude for all of our veterans, young and old, and Todd Beamer’s immortal words “let’s roll.”
Twelve years later, I still give thanks for freedom and for all our veterans. It doesn’t matter if it’s Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day or the Fourth of July. Or just plain old April 13th. God bless America.