Here we are. September 11, 2013. 12 years later. Everyone who was breathing on that incredible, surreal day knows exactly where they were, exactly what they were doing. As a nation, the United States held her collective breath, hoping desperately to wake from the unfolding nightmare. First responders saved lives, many at the price of their own. The news commentators, early on that bright September morning, fought for composure. They fell from their lofty pedestals that day – the ones we, as viewers, put them on – to prove themselves all too human. As a nation, we sat in shock, as over and over the startling images were replayed. For the next few days, crowds could be found around television sets in malls, department stores, corner bars, restaurants, as the horrendous job of rescue turned to recovery, and the names of those fallen began to be told. We swelled with collective pride when our president stood on the rubble and swore vengeance against those responsible. We cried together, as a nation, as a world. We had all witnessed, thanks to modern technology, man’s inhumanity to man, first hand.
So today we pause to remember. 12 years. 4,383 days (including the extras for leap years). At the time, enlistments in the military swelled, young men and women ready to defend their homeland. Others headed off to train to become police officers, fire fighters, paramedics – to be ready in case the unthinkable ever happened again. But wait – what has happened in the past 12 years? What has changed? From my humble perspective, from my country living in the Deep South of the United States, the biggest changes have subtly occurred over the past decade plus. For on September 10, 2001, if one walked into a convenience store and there was a clerk of Arab descent there, we saw that person as a person – one who had “escaped” their homeland, and the oppression there, and was doing what our forefathers had done – grasping the American dream with both hands. Working, as our ancestors had done, to better themselves and to contribute yet another layer to the tapestry that is this nation. Today, that perception is not the same for all of us. For September 11, 2001, people of Arab descent attacked our nation, murdered our citizens, damaged our innocence. So now, for many, a person of Arab descent represents the worst humanity has to offer – the terrorist. The person who lives to terrorize others. Worse yet, a Muslim – a person whose very religion, so popular culture would have us believe, is a religion of death to all who do not believe as they do. For 3% – the radical extremists who attacked us – this is true. Yet the other 97% are tarred with the same brush. There are people of Arab descent who are Christians – they are tarred with the same brush, because of their ancestry. I know people who will not go in a store because of the ancestral heritage of the person behind the counter! I know people who will turn around and leave a business because the person running the establishment is “not an American”. 9/11 did that for us. It unleashed a cancer more potent than any other – the cancer of fear. That fear has turned to racism and hatred. We began – banded together in our sorrow and shock. We stand, 12 years later, divided by our fear, our hatred, our ignorance.
In 1861, this country divided because of ignorance. It took 4 years, 1,264,000 lives, and that division is still a scar that seeps to this day, 152 years later. In 1914, we sent our young men overseas to die – and many would before its end in 1918 – in what they called at the time The Great War. Then comes December 7, 1941, “the day that will live in infamy”. Pearl Harbor. Because of that day, 127,000 Americans were placed in inhumane conditions in concentration camps ON OUR OWN SOIL because of fear. People of German descent were branded Nazis. Then, after that, but before the wounds could heal, came Korea. Vietnam. Persons of oriental descent were vilified, shunned, mistrusted. I can tell you first hand it still happens today, in this nation. The Cold War – Russia became THE ENEMY. The 1960’s brought us the Civil Rights movement – we as a nation finally admitting that we were indeed One nation, not two separated by racial issues. Oh we had our high points. We had good times, prosperous times. We had heartache at home too. The assassinations – JFK, King, RFK. Charles Manson and his terror spree in Southern California. The serial killers – not the least of whom were Son of Sam and John Wayne Gacy. Who of my generation can forget Jim Jones, and the mass suicide in his cult. The Unibomber. Waco. Oklahoma City. Countless other incidents that shaped our thoughts. The natural disasters – hurricanes, earthquakes, firestorms, floods. Through it all we maintained our “oneness” – we were Americans, and we didn’t have to agree to band together in time of need. We made collective mistakes, we admitted them, we went on. We loved, we laughed, we mourned, we cried. On September 11, 2001, we stood in shocked silence, tears rolling down our collective cheeks, at the devastation, the death, the destruction. Over and over again, our citizens vowed to stand together. Over and over again, in the nations churches, schools, grocery stores, shopping malls, the refrain “I’m proud to be an American” rang out. The words of Abraham Lincoln were quoted, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”, and we clung to those immortal words, and swore to stand unified.
Ignorance is the worst kind of cancer on the planet. It has no symptoms. It quietly infiltrates the very soul of its victims, twisting thoughts and ideals. It then creates the tumors of hatred, and firmly embeds them in every fiber of the chosen victim. These tumors wield tentacles of fear, which draw fuel to the ignorance, growing the tumors, spreading more insidious tentacles of fear, with small pustules of misinformation. There is only one cure for this horrid, mind numbing cancer. Awareness, information and education. With that awareness, information and education, the truth comes to the forefront. The pustules of misinformation dry up and cease to be, the tentacles of fear, having no fuel, wither and die. The tumors shrink under the bright light of education, leaving the ignorance to starve and watch its sinister plans dissolve, leaving the victim cancer free. We must – in every county, every city, every state, every nation – remember the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. When those planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the field in Pennsylvania, they unleashed ignorance. For the first few weeks, we did not see as it seeped into the very fabric of our lives, in many cases mutating itself to grow the tentacles of fear first, fueling itself for the formation of the tumors. We felt it not – we had no symptoms.
12 years later, the ignorance is no longer quiet. The tumors of hatred glare at us, divide us. The tentacles of fear now masquerade as truth. Ignorance masquerades as logic. We stand on the precipice, with nothing but a rope bridge in front of us to take us onward into the future – a future that can be bright, promising, and better than anything our forefathers ever dreamed of for us when they founded this nation. Unless that bridge is actually the tentacles of yet another tumor, tenuous, but weak, snapping as we get to the deepest part of the chasm, sending us spiraling to the jagged rocks below. The choice is yours. Do we take the pride we felt as a nation on September 11, 2001, and move forward, or do we take the road of ignorance and fear, to our destruction?
It is no coincidence I used cancer as my example. Cancer awareness is vital to our future as well. Far too many people suffer from the hundreds of types of cancer – from the very young to the very old – and we need to spend our time and energy finding a way to eradicate this beast that decimates families, changes lives. We need to shine the light of information, education and awareness so brightly that no one takes cancer for granted, so that our incredible technologies are used to discover the whys, the hows, and most importantly the how to stop it.
September 11, 2013. The day we take the first step in the eradication of the cancer of ignorance.
Thank you for your time in reading this. If you so desire, please take another moment to share.