It’s been 9 years since my city was struck to its core and the world gasped with shock and horror. At ground zero, this year, we can finally see something else than a giant hole, helping cover up some of the wounds of the past.
9 years is both a long and a short time.
A lot has happened since both on a personal and wider level. In the past 9 years, I got married, became a dad, and came close to death. Meanwhile the US has gone through a presidential change, two wars, and a substantial financial crisis.
On the other hand, some things haven’t changed: I still believe in the good of people and in inclusive behavior; at a larger level, fear of gays and muslims still seems to capture a large part of the national dialogue.
A Year in Intolerance
This year has seen France dictate how muslim women should dress (there is a deep irony in the French government dictating how the veil should not be worn while they denounce the behavior of islamic countries dictating how it should).
This year, people outside of New York have been telling New Yorkers how inclusive they should not be, because muslims are considering putting a community center in downtown Manhattan (for reference, the concept of the “ground zero mosque” is flawed in two ways: it’s neither at ground zero nor is it a mosque).
This year, a pastor in Florida (why is it always Florida?) pushed himself to the center of a national debate by suggesting Americans should burn the Koran (because we all know that burning religious items (Bibles, Korans, Crosses) has done so well for inclusion in the South).
All this behavior seems to be pushing the country in a direction that is counter to what the founding fathers had intended: We are to be a United country, not a divided one.
A Suggestion for Inclusion
As a mean to commemorate today, Patriot day (not to be confused with Patriots’ day) was created. The creation of a special day to commemorate these events is admirable but much of the commemoration seems to be about loss and go directly against the optimism that generally defines what the United States stand for. I understand that the need to honor the fallen patriot is a very strong one but I think that without a meaning beyond loss, today’s commemoration misses an opportunity.
And so I’d like to suggest a few things: For starter, we could change the “Patriot Day” commemoration to a “United We Stand Day” commemoration (or “United Day” if people want something shorter). This would first remove the possible confusion with Patriots’ Day. And it would go towards sending a message of unification and inclusion.
The day would include a commemoration of the fallen on 9/11 but also inject a deeper meaning into the day by suggesting that people look to what “different” people bring to our country. It would show how Patrick Henry‘s words still sit at the core of who we are. And it would bring back the memory of the most amazing part of what happened shortly after 9/11: people helping people, without care for creed or color.
I could see Christian Churches or Jewish Temples reading from the Koran, Islamic Mosques reading from the Bible or the Torah, and families of all religions getting more acquainted with the other religions. I could see churches, temples, and mosques opening doors to all on that day, highlighting inclusion above all.
I could see people volunteering to help others. People working together to help fix up schools, playgrounds, and parks and most of the country focused on fixing up the United States, working side by side on day where racial tensions might disappear.
Christians, muslims, jews; black, white, hispanic, asian; straight or gay; None of those distinctions would matter on United Day. What would matter is that we are all part of the same country and are all working towards a common goal to create “a more perfect union.”
Is it an impossible dream? Maybe but maybe not. In our house today, that will be the focus. The way I look at it is fairly simple: If two guys can get thousands of people to follow Talk like a Pirate Day, why can’t I try to do the same with United Day.
And so I unilaterally declare today to be United Day, a day not only of remembrance but of action towards more inclusive behavior.
Words of Inclusion
Many people have argued that 9/11 was an attack on the Christian foundation of this country and have used this as a basis for the exclusive behavior when it comes to Islam. Yet, the new testament itself preaches inclusion. One of the few things I remember from the time when I went through Jesuit school in France was the teaching of tolerance and inclusion. Jesus Christ often admonished his followers to “turn the other cheek” when struck by their enemy. But few parts of the Bible make the point as clearly to me as the allegory of the sheeps and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46):
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
In memoriam to the ones I knew: Carlos Dominguez, Mark Ellis, Melissa Vin cent, Michael DiPasquale, Cyn thia Giugliano, Jeremy Glick, David Halderman, Steve Weinberg, Gerard Jean Baptiste, Tom McCann, David Vera.