Eleven years ago on this day I was working at my second job, Mcdonalds, and the first news I heard was from customers; Initially these customers brought confused, contradictory, not yet very concerned information. As the morning wore on, the reports became more confused, more contradictory and more concerned. It was pretty much a unanimous feeling in the days that followed that we would never be the same, that something had changed forever.
Today I was taking a day off from both my jobs, including my current second job, Apple Store ABQ Uptown and reflecting on what had changed and what hadn’t changed in the decade+ since that terrible day.
Most of these reflections, were to be honest, personal, important to me but to few else and unrelated to the event, except as a chronological landmark: Questions about what has changed in my life (My Apple Store job is so much better than my Mcdonalds job) and what hasn’t (I still have not reached a level of financial success as a pastor which would make a second job unnecessary), about what needs to change (my aforementioned financial status) and what doesn’t (my joy in my fantastic wife and kids).
But amidst my selfish contemplations, I did find some time to ponder the national landscape of this country I love and what’s happened in the decade since. Some would say that nothing changed, that our flurry of good feelings and national unity lasted less time than it took to build the memorial honoring the fallen. Others might say that our changes have been overall negative, making us more bitter, cynical, willing to sacrifice our own liberties and values for the sake of safety.
There is room for each of these arguments, and possibly in time, I could be persuaded of a degree of truth in either, but overall I think not. For the first I would say that we were right at first when we realized that the mere presence of this event, this attack, in our history changes us forever by it’s very nature. Prior to that day my generation had only historical or abstract ideas of what enemity for a country actually feels like. We were a country that had not been attacked, that never would be. We mark Patriot’s day because that is no longer who we are. It did change us. There is an us and a them and it is not just in our imaginations. We can and do argue about who “them” is, or whether us is truly better than them or what our response to “them” should be, but the fact of us and them became a fact at that moment that “them” decided to kill us, that “them” did kill us.
As for the second point, History shows us that America has always been partisan, sometimes fiercely, seemingly insurmountably, divided. The admittedly polarized campaigns of the last decade have nothing on the campaign of Jefferson V Adams and despite the rhetoric of “culture wars” and metaphorical “civil wars” nothing in our current culture matches the country destroying potential of the actual Civil War. But history also shows us that the same scrappy, flawed, good hearted, God aware American people that created the scrappy, flawed, good hearted, God aware constitution, pressed on as a scrappy, flawed, good hearted, God aware American Culture. What 9/11 reminded us was that our divisions really are superficial, no matter how fierce. Truth is our founding fathers knew that any government and any people would be flawed, and may not always be good hearted, so they designed a system with checks and balances which they hoped could withstand intense heat and testing. It has indeed withstood such heat before 9/11 and it will again.
Our Freedoms, our constitution and form of Government with these checks and balances is precisely what allows us to engage in such rancor, division and squabbles, from petty to serious. It would indeed have been a change if dissension, argument, passionate disagreement and intense, troubling freedom of political speech had dissipated after 9/11. Such a change would have signaled a decline in our government, an actual abandonment of our constitution. Such a change did not come.
What hasn’t changed is our ability to argue, bicker, stay stupid things strongly or strong things stupidly. What hasn’t changed is our conviction that the best answer to bad speech is more speech, not enforced silence. The ensuing clamor may sometimes annoy us, but it is precisely this kind of freedom that most offended the evil men who flew their airplanes into Americans 11 years ago today.
What hasn’t changed is our adaptability, our passion, our desire to protect our constitution, nurture our culture, defend justice, and expand liberty.
Not everything changed that day. Thank God.