On my way in to DC from Memphis today, we flew past the Pentagon. I don’t know how many times I’ve been here, but I don’t ever remember flying past the Pentagon, of course normally I’m asleep during final approach. Looking at it from the window of the A320 I was in, I tried to imagine what it must have looked like for a plane, nearly the same size as the one I was on, to slam into the building at over 500 mph. I thought about what must have been going through the heads of the passengers. Even just trying to imagine what they experienced sent me down a line of thought that I haven’t considered for a very long time.
Seven years ago today, I was in Tallahassee, FL doing a show. Zig Ziglar was on stage when the private speaker security lead for the show, and former Green Beret, came to me and told me he had heard on the radio a plane hit the WTC. Tom had always been a joker, and because we were completely cut off from any media (this was before everyone had a crackberry, or laptop cards, or WIFI was everywhere) I though he was pulling my leg. Emphatic, I eventually believed him, but since we had no TV, I just assumed it was a single prop Cessna or something. 5 minutes later he came back and said another one had hit the other tower. His words were haunting, “This is no accident, this is an act of war”. That’s a lot to digest before 10am.
Within minutes cell phones in the audience of the Florida State basketball arena started going off en masse. People were hurriedly collecting their belongings and leaving. By the end of Zig’s presentation only 800 of the original 5000 people remained.
The rest of the day is a blur. For some reason, the promoters of the event chose to continue, even though nearly everyone had left. By the end of the day there were just 200 people left in the audience. We loaded the show out, crammed the entire crew, all of whom had flown in to Tallahassee, into the cab of the truck, and started driving back to Little Rock.
In the past seven years, we have seen one thing after another justified by the attacks of 9/11; two wars, domestic spying, torture, and a full frontal attack on the civil liberties that are the foundation of our nation. All of these things slipped by a nation rapt in a feverish nationalism masquerading as patriotism.
It does no dishonor to the memories of those who lost their lives on 9/11, or the people who have lost their lives representing America in Afghanistan and Iraq, to point these things out. We honor the dead by using this day as a moment of reflection, an opportunity to look at where we are and what we, as a nation, have done. How have our actions impacted, not only the “War on Terror”, but the future of our nation? What avenues have these actions opened, what avenues are no longer available? Where is America now, and where do we want it to go?
It is just in the past 18 months or so that a growing majority of Americans are coming around to see the things we tacitly surrendered in the name of nationalism. It’s a slow awakening from a deep slumber, but those whose eyes are opening are seeing a nation that looks very different from the America that was on September 10th, 2001. Some wake up angry, some sad, and some just want to know what the hell happened.
For me, the question is not, “What Happened?” but “How do we honor the memories of the dead and move into the next chapter in American history?”. For seven years our nation has been consumed by this event, partially because of the horror, partially because it has been a politically expedient device for this administration. Every lie, every justification, every time they invoke this day for political gain they do dishonor not only to the nation, but to the people who died on this fateful day and those who have died since.
How do we honor the memories of the dead? By turning back the clock on summary destruction that has been laid on our nation by an administration only interested in winning politically. We honor the dead by rejecting the emotional rhetoric that has highlighted the past seven years of political discourse, and turned these poor souls into a political hot potato used to spread fear and disinformation from the highest corridors of our nation to the hearts of our brothers and sisters. We honor the dead by remembering them with reverence, correcting the ills that have been done to this nation and letting them rest in peace, knowing that no harm has been done to America in their names.
The way America looks at the world was changed on this day seven years ago, of this there is no doubt. Our challenge, our opportunity now is to honor the dead by taking what we’ve learned in these seven long years, taking our new perspective and using it as an agent for change, not only in our nation, but throughout the world. Not by force, but by reclaiming our mantle of leadership and dignity from the people who traded them off for jingoism and political ploys. This is how a nation honors it’s dead. That’s how a nation that has been in mourning for seven years, moves on, never forgetting what happened, but working for a better future for everyone.