Friday, September 9, 2011

The Sun Always Follows the Rain

It is so nice to see the sun today, after nothing but rain and more rain for the past few weeks. We've been living in a continuous downpour for so long I'd almost forgotten what a sunny day felt like. I know that today's sunshine is just a brief respite, with the rain slated to return tomorrow, but I'm still enjoying the sun while I have it.

It occurs to me that the ebb and flow of life is an awful lot like the weather. Sometimes it seems you're going under, and then all of a sudden the clouds part, the sun comes out and the problems are behind you. Other times, it's the opposite. You're sailing along in blue skies, thinking everything is fine, and then out of nowhere disaster strikes.

Like most people, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the first plane hit the towers back in 2001. I was at work at Center Printing, pasting-up a product catalogue for a client who made electrical components. The shop was in an old former Grange building. The presses and front counter took up the whole downstairs, so my desk was up in the attic, on the old stage. I had the scissors and the Exacto Knife out and was focused on cutting around the delicate lines of type, not really paying much attention to the radio in the background. I remember the radio announcer commenting that a plane had hit one of the towers. Not long after, my boss buzzed me on the intercom from downstairs and said to come down because something was happening on the TV in his office. "I don't know what's going on" he said "But I think maybe you better go get your son from school."

When I got to the school they told me they hadn't told the kids anything, but since they had gone into emergency lock down, they knew something was up. My son was very quiet when he got in the car, which was out of character, so I knew he had to be scared. After a few minutes he asked me if anything bad was going to happen to me, his dad or his grandma and grandpa.

"No," I told him. "Nothing bad is going to happen to any of our family. No matter what happens, I'll always protect you. I promise." Honestly, I didn't know if that was true or not. For all I knew, bombs could start dropping at any moment, but as soon as I said it, his little eight year old face brightened right back up again. His mom's word was good enough for him, and that was all he needed. That night I took him out and we rode our scooters around Flemington for a while so Grandma and Grandpa could watch the news, which replayed the images of the towers collapsing over and over again.

American flags flying from car antennas were soon to become ubiquitous, but the very first one I saw, a few days after 9/11, was on a beat up old blue Honda flying just above a smaller Costa Rican flag. A lot of the Latin people I knew who didn't have cars hung the American flag in the windows of their homes to show their support. In those first weeks after 9/11 we were all Americans, no matter what it said in our passports.

I wish that we had continued in that vein of unity longer, that we had done more to sustain the belief that what makes us American is the values we embrace, not the language we speak or the place where we were born. Alas, all too soon, the coming together was over and the vilification of immigrants had begun. And not just immigrants in general, but Latino immigrants, many of whom (I couldn't help but notice) bear a strong physical resemblance to the people of the middle east.

Just a few months ago Osama Bin Laden was finally caught, almost ten years after the towers came down. It wasn't lost on me that right after that, the tone of media reports featuring immigrants softened a bit. Will that continue? Who can say at this point, but I hope that as a nation we can once again come to value not only being Americans, but also being citizens of the Americas. I hope that we can begin to widen our focus beyond the middle east and direct some attention to the needs in Central and South America as well.

The repercussions from 9/11 are far reaching and the scars it left won't fade anytime soon. It is an event that has become imprinted on our national psyche that will forever alter not only the way we see the world, but also the way we see ourselves. In may respects, it has been a long, dark rain filled decade since that balmy September day ten years ago. We'll never return to exactly where we were before it happened, but the sun always follows the rain, and I feel a sunny day coming on.

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