WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (BP)–“A day that will go down in infamy,” “Another Pearl Harbor,” “God Bless America,” “United We Stand” were just a few of so many speedy declarations made by millions of commentators and observers on Sept. 11 as a terribly wounded America tried to make sense of and absorb the dark and brooding events, so evil and Machiavellian in significance that words of any kind were hardly sufficient to describe them.
“We will never forget,” perhaps the most poignant declaration of them all, swung on a banner like New Glory from a wall near the fallen World Trade Center. A makeshift platform had been assembled and civic and religious leaders and other concerned citizens had quickly gathered to offer the only thing they could in a time of deep need for victims, to grieving relatives and a terrorized nation: Prayer.
Instantly, the best in us, the magnanimity of our latent national character, floated to the surface. Compassion, focused and lavish, flowed freely from one to the other critically or mortally affected among us. None of us will ever forget those lavishly unselfish acts of industry, resourcefulness and professionalism so many Americans demonstrated. And what we as a nation hope is the centrality of our national character — unity — galvanized us, and nothing else mattered, not even race, not even ethnicity. At that moment, we were all Americans — we were one — with one common need — the survival of our country — with one common enemy — terrorists abroad and those in our land.
The truth is, we should never forget that on Sept. 11, 2001, as a nation in horrible devastation, our soul was laid bare. In that tremendous act of cowardice and ambush, we were thrust before a darkened mirror with just enough light to see who we really are.
And, yet, so soon after Sept. 11, we are like one who “for a moment observed their face in a mirror, went away, and immediately forgot what was seen.”
While America fights a dangerous ground war in Afghanistan against terrorism, internal terrors abound where it concerns the nation’s children. In June, a Michigan woman, in an act of indiscriminate neglect, left her two small children locked in a car to roast to death while the temperature rolled to 120 degrees. She, by the way, went to get her hair curled.
Though officially the numbers are reported down, this and other media reports continue of too many American children that go missing, are abducted, brutalized or killed.
There are not many Americans who will ever again look unassumingly at jumbo air carriers as means of fast conveyance, but could two America West Airlines pilots have forgotten this when recently they boarded their jets in Miami to fly them while intoxicated?
American popular culture was most telling of its soul amnesia when shock jocks Opie and Anthony of WNEW in New York challenged couples in an on-air contest to have sexual relations inside a church. Only the Lord knows what happened inside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on its Holy Day of Obligation when a couple brazen enough to do so accepted the duo’s sacrilegious challenge. Had any of these four people forgotten that only 11 months ago millions of Americans had run to the altar of some church or synagogue or mosque, many for the first time, in contrite penitence, to find refuge from an inner agony they had never before known?
Professor Richard Walter of the University of California at Los Angeles was disappointed the two radio personalities were fired. He said that firing the men for their antics was an infringement of their freedom of speech. But has Professor Walter forgotten that freedom of speech as provided for by America’s Constitution was never intended to protect such human indecency as that which was called for and which occurred at St. Patrick’s Cathedral?
Have Americans forgotten that theirs is the land of greatest liberty in the world?
Have Americans forgotten that Sept. 11s happen somewhere in the world every day?
With the first anniversary of Sept. 11 upon us, have Americans forgotten that with its great resources and freedoms (speech, among them) that it can use the same compassion, generosity and unity of spirit to affect change for the causes of human liberty, decency, civility, both in this nation and around the world?
Terriel R. Byrd, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion and director of urban ministries studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, West Palm Beach, Fla.