On September 11, 2001, I didn’t have to be to work until 10:00. I sent my daughter off to pre-school, let my son watch his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine video for a while before taking him to daycare, and then forgot to pop out his Ready Set Learn cassette in the car until I had almost made it to work. In other words, I didn’t hear the news until I was sitting in the left-hand turn lane on M-40.
I remember those tiny details. I remember hearing WBCT’s morning deejay Reese Rickards saying that it had been deliberate, that the planes had been full when they struck the towers.
Towers? What Towers?
I sat there, not hearing the horns honking around me, and I heard Reese say that the Pentagon had been hit. I didn’t realize I was crying until after I had finally parked.
I remember every detail of that day. I can tell you the names of each client I worked on, what size perm rods I used, how many haircuts I did, how hard I worked because I didn’t know what else to do. My boss debated turning off the radio so as not to upset the clients, but everyone was upset already. We all had to listen. And we listened all day long.
They were plenty of reasons to cry in the days after that. As a firefighter’s wife, I attended memorial services and candlelight vigils. I held my husband close when he told me he wanted to volunteer to go to New York and help with the clean-up; I thanked God when he couldn’t go because our area was sending only those with EMT certification and above. The Big Guy had his MFR (Medical First Responder), one level below EMT.
I didn’t jump on the patriotic bandwagon then. I wasn’t ready to climb on board and start waving the flag. During those first shell-shocked, horrified weeks, I didn’t cry as an American. I cried as a human being. As a wife and mother and daughter and sister and friend. My heart broke for what the victims must have felt in their last moments, and for the agony their loved ones were going through.
For me, it wasn’t about being an American.
When I saw the flags going up everywhere, I didn’t feel a swelling of pride. I wondered, “Where was your flag last week? Weren’t you proud to be an American then, too?” And I’ll admit, I felt a little bit irritated when I saw that those flags were left up after sunset, hanging day and night, twenty-four/seven.
I was once a Girl Scout, after all. The flag always comes in at dark.
Respect the Flag.
About three weeks after the attack on the Twin Towers, it was my scheduled day to volunteer in my daughter’s class. We put her things in her cubby, settled her in to her seat and sang “Good morning to you.” And then we stood and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, just like schoolchildren all over the country do every morning.
I hadn’t said those words in over thirty years, but they came right back. And for the first time in my life, I actually said them instead of just reciting them.
Did I mean it? Do I pledge my allegiance to this country with its poverty, poor healthcare system, and screwed-up political system? Can I really have any allegiance toward a country whose leaders routinely lie to us? In the midst of my losing battle with Social Security to be declared disabled while perfectly healthy people all around me are collecting Disability checks, can I really say I am proud to be an American?
We’re not perfect. I’m really afraid of what the future holds for me and my fellow countrymen.
But when you come right down to it, yes, I am patriotic. I was born American and I will die American, and in between I will probably be really ashamed of a lot of the things my country does. But that’s what patriotism means to me: accepting that this country is my home, warts and all, and loving it anyway.
I am American. It’s part of what I am, just like the fact that I am short, overweight, green-eyed. I am a slow driver, a mediocre cook, and a horrible housekeeper. I am the daughter of a meat cutter, granddaughter of a Jack-of-all-trades, great-granddaughter of a foot-washing Baptist minister. I am a Michigander, a cat-owner, and a Diet Coke drinker.
And I am an American. A cynical one, but a patriotic one in my own way.
I pledge allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible,
with Liberty and Justice for all.