On this day, September 11th, 2015, I am feeling particularly “American,” which, maybe oddly, isn’t a feeling I get very often. I’m not even one to feel very patriotic on the classic bank holidays: Labor Day, Independence Day, not even Memorial Day–the day I should feel the most “American.”
Today is a day that I feel like a Capital mother again–a mother so used to not even noticing just how privileged my children are to live in a nice home with well-made clothes and access to Netflix at the touch of a button.
No one, besides my grandfather and my husband’s grandfather, from our immediate family is in the military and I feel like I am the classic American case of the soft, fat-and-happy citizen that is completely disconnected from the sacrifices that our military men, women, and families make every single day. I know that they make so many of them: spouses not seeing each other for months at the time, the very real and present truth that each time they speak may be their last time, one parent raising children by themselves, many not even being present at their children’s births, moving every few years and uprooting from friends and schools, living where they have no grandparents or other family to help raise kids. They do this all so I can sit here in my comfortable house and type this. So I can choose the schools my kids attend. So much. I can’t even begin to imagine being a military spouse, much less military personnel.
Today is different, though, and oddly, this year hit me harder in the gut than any of the past anniversaries of 9/11.
Jason and I flew to New York in January 2012, just two months after the attack. We went to ground zero, which, at that point, looked like a construction site with mounds and mounds of flowers, notes, tributes and photographs tacked to the plywood barriers. Even standing there, in the same place that so many people had fled, I felt disconnected. The ground on which I stood had been worn under feet that were panicked, scared, frozen–quite probably the sidewalk where many, many, many people had stepped not even two full months earlier in what would be their last steps on a New York sidewalk–that ground was like another planet to me and I was an outsider looking in.
It’s taken me this long (and a marriage and two kids later) to even begin to grasp what that day was like for so many. I’ve recounted my “Where Was I” story every year, but this year, as I was telling my 8-year old about the day, I couldn’t finish because tears were running down my cheeks. I suddenly felt very connected to everyone around me–not as human, not as Southern, not as any particular group except “American.”
I’ve only felt this way once before that I can really remember, and it was in a completely different capacity. Of course, it was after reading a book–because isn’t that the point of reading? To evoke strong emotion and reaction?
This book, which I read in eighth grade, is titled Nothing but the Truth: A Documentary Novel, written in 1992 by Avi (pen name of Edward Irving Wortis).
Short synopsis: A boy hums during the National Anthem during the pledge break in his 9th grade homeroom class. He’s asked to stop; he doesn’t. He is suspended. The media goes CRAZY. He changes schools. He’s asked to lead the National Anthem (because hello, he was suspended for being super patriotic, right?) in his new class. He can’t. He doesn’t know the words.
The book is written in a documentary style by using diary entries, press memos, newspaper articles, etc. surrounding the event. Can you guess what the take-away lesson was? The media doesn’t always tell the whole truth. Get the whole story. Look at things from every angle.
It was while reading this book that I felt suddenly and intensely “patriotic.” “American.” How dare this boy take something so far by using our American symbol? Of course, I was in eighth grade, so I couldn’t even name the emotions that this book evoked, but it was strong.
I’d like to see this book updated to employ a modern approach to the same story. This version would include emails, texts, snapchats, Instagram, and especially Facebook posts. I’m sure the outcome would be no different, but it would certainly be something that would resonate well with students.
Have you read this book, Nothing but the Truth: A Documentary Novel? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
For now, on this somber day that even the weather is feeling, I wish everyone the power and courage to recount their own “Where Was I” story. To tell it with tears running down your cheeks. To never, ever, ever forget that deep, horrible feeling in your gut when, as you were watching the same new I was watching, you saw the second plane approach the towers.
I will never forget. I will continue to try to thank our first responders and our brave military personnel and their families for their sacrifices and contributions to our great country. For even though we complain about our first-world problems, we would have it much worse without those that defend our rights to the death.