Swimming with the Razorfishes

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Meaning

It is an odd thing that we humans do, investing such meaning in arbitrary numbers. Lucky number 7. Evil 666. 61*. December 7. And now, September 11.

What can be said about this day that hasn't already been spoken and repeated, accepted as conventional wisdom, then parroted until thoughtful people are sick to death of the platitudes? More than any one thing, what happened six years ago today forced many Americans to think about what it means to be a U.S. citizen.

After the fear, after the rage, and after the empty, adolescent pledges of "the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon," people around the country sought to understand what had happened.

Why did they do this to us? How do we react to this?

Of course, answers varied rather widely and still do.

Some saw a profit opportunity. Some saw a test to the American spirit. Some were compelled to strike back. And some saw leverage to push an otherwise irrational agenda.

In the weeks immediately following, most were swept up by a unifying spirit. Flags flew on lawns and on cars and on lapels. Approval ratings soared. And politicians crossed the aisle to act in solidarity. This changed with time, as all things do. We went back to work. Ideology pushed people apart. Things began to look pretty much the same.

Perhaps the best way to honor the memory of those who died on this day six years ago is to keep asking what it means to be American. But do so quietly. Leave behind the bravado, the flag waving, and the calls for revenge. Ask what really makes us a people, what values we share. And work to live those values. This, I think, is the best way to mark that brilliant September day, the day we were all shaken just a bit awake.

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