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FIRST-PERSON America, reflected in Sept. 11: the good, the bad & the ugly

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–The visual images following the horrific assault on America on Sept. 11 spring forth like a thundering reminder of a terrible nightmare from which one longs to awaken, relieved it was only a frightening dream. Yet we’re all still dealing with the earth-shaking reality that the events of Sept. 11 were not a dream but indeed a horrible nightmare. Many New Yorkers and others around the world have expressed, in their shock concerning the massacre, “It was so surreal.”

How can any good thing come out of such an evil and despicable act of fanaticism? How do we make sense out of a nation filled with so much death, doom and destruction? We’ve seen the bad and the ugly, but where is the good?

Oh, but good was realized. We immediately observed Americans of all racial, ethnic, social and economic backgrounds coming together as “one nation indivisible,” joining forces to rescue the injured, to put out the terrorist flames from the violent attacks, to comfort the hurting and helpless loved ones who witnessed the familial fabric of human life, seemingly without rhyme or reason, torn away from them — right before their very eyes — as the fire and smoke raged. Yes, our nation came together regardless of our religious, political, social and cultural differences. We came together as Americans. That was indeed good.

Our president affirmed our nation’s faith in God by calling our nation to prayer, naming Sept. 14 a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance. That was good, despite the bad and the ugly. The president expressed clearly, “We’ve had the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers in English, Hebrew and Arabic.”

If we believe that prayer is communing with God, speaking to and with the Most High, our creator and our protector, and the sustainer of life, what must God be saying to our nation? Just maybe God is saying, if we can come together as a nation in times of trouble, why is it so difficult for us to come together in times of peace? White and black, brown, red and yellow — Americans embracing and supporting one another. Political leaders, Republicans and Democrats, standing shoulder to shoulder united as one American governmental establishment. This tragedy has reminded us of our weakness, our human frailty and our vulnerability. As President Abraham Lincoln once stated, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day.” Thus, the “good” is that we have dropped to our knees in prayer.

But how do we explain the “bad,” the vile and vicious, horrific evil that is so real? It is unexplainable apart from an extreme, hateful and socially deranged mindset. The very thought is incomprehensible that terrorists living amongst us, those who perhaps sat next to us in a classroom or ate at an adjacent table in a restaurant, could be so heartless and wicked to carry out such a devastating deed. A Sept. 24 U.S. News & World Report article depicted this evil, “The terrorists flew on devil’s wings in a horrifying moment, singular in history. They changed the course of a presidency, a nation, and, quite likely, the world.” The life-altering events of Sept. 11 had the good, the bad and, of course, the ugly.

To add to the horror of these tragic events, we heard stories of the ugly hate spewed out toward honest, hard-working, patriotic Arab-Americans. How ugly and ignorant can one be, to assume that all brown-skinned, turban-wearing, Arabic-speaking people are somehow linked to terrorism? In Arizona, an Indian Sikh was murdered; in California, an Egyptian Christian was killed; and nationwide, in a three-day period following the attacks, there were more than 300 reports of harassment and abuse against American Muslims. According to some estimates, Islam may be America’s fastest-growing religion. Time magazine reports, “The country’s seven million Muslims are overwhelmingly middle and professional class: a handful of autoworkers, many more small-business owners, lots of doctors and, increasingly, university professors.”

During a Sept. 23 “Prayer for America” service in New York’s Yankee Stadium, actor James Earl Jones captured the sentiments of most American when he said, “Today we reaffirm our faith in the essential dignity of every individual … . What we share as Americans and as human beings is far greater than what divides us.”

May the events of Sept. 11 continue to unite us and remind us that in the midst of the good, the bad and the ugly, we are still all Americans, and united we shall stand together. With God’s help we shall overcome.
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of ethnic church ministries at Palm Beach Atlantic College in West Palm Beach, Fla.

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  • Terriel Byrd