The inevitable question we'll each field from our grandchildren is "where were you on September 11th?" The simple answer, really, is geography. Those coordinates that place us in our homes, our offices, factories, schools. The spot in which we saw, heard, watched, stopped. Unbelieving. Fearful. Reaching for the phone for information, reassurance. Making our way home to our families.
Me? I was in the Winston-Salem, NC area performing for a group of school children. I cut short the concert with "This Land Is Your Land," the song Woody Guthrie penned as a response to "God Bless America," and spent the rest of the day trying to be helpful. It's all any of us can do in this world, really . . . try to be helpful. And in the ensuing days I was amazed to find how quickly and how often people turned to song. From the high school choir I witnessed demand to sing rather than watch television, to the Congressional choir on the Capitol steps, singing was an act of refuge, solidarity and defiance. It was not the inspired solo that people sought, but the comfort of the choir. It reminded us that music is not merely ornamental but is, in fact, instrumental to our very existence.
But the more important question may not be "where were you when?" but "where are you since September 11"? The many sacrifices made, the bravery exhibited, the losses endured by everyone throughout the world will be given their true meaning by altered lives, attitudes.
As a gardener, I must believe in seeds. It is an act of faith to prepare the soil and bury something that looks nothing like what I eventually hope to see. From this act of death comes life. I trust in the unlikely combination of rain and sunshine. Weeds intrude and I've learned that it's certainly easier to clip off the tops, but that mere cosmetics doesn't replace the more arduous act of digging a little deeper and eradicating the root system. In fact, failure to do that ultimately creates more work. Gardening is about long-term faith, long-term work. There is no quick return. Oh, maybe radishes . . .
So where are we since September 11th? Maybe finding that quick fixes never fix things. Root systems still abound. Violence, we find again and again, is the weapon of the weak. And terrorism wears many clothes. It happens in airplanes, in markets, and in boardrooms. And revenge, while reflexive, leaves us empty and bracing for the next, inevitable wave.
We've recently been told it's unpatriotic to question or criticize. The most un-American thing I can imagine is the suppression of dissent. We are a nation born of dissent. From Lexington and Concord to Selma and Haymarket, it was a profound sense of righteousness and resolve that drove our forbears. Patriotism is not about blind obedience any more than it is about flag decals. It's about believing in seeds. Understanding that both sunshine and rain, heat and cold bring about growth. That you do sow exactly what you reap, though it may not look that way at the beginning. And that for all of us, saints and sinners alike, our flag is still there.
Where are we since September 11th? What coordinates do we mark out for ourselves? Hopefully those that find us closer to, rather than further from, each other. Where we are driven to sing our songs together rather than have them sung at us. Where greed gives way to generosity. Where bravery is redefined as those countless small acts of selflessness that do not require tragedy or weaponry to be exhibited. And where mercy and forgiveness find their way into our hearts and homes.
from John McCutcheon