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9/11 doesn’t need to define our country – there are better ways

Anyone over the age of 20 most likely knows where they were and what they were doing this morning 17 years ago.

I was walking out of my dorm room at Illinois State University and heading to class when one of my roommates came running down the hall, shouting something about New York and planes crashing into the World Trade Center. I was old enough to remember the first attack in the 1993, and thought “Again.”

I went to class – I remember it being the History of Germany, a detail that serves no purpose other than to color my memories – and then returned. The towers had fallen by then, and we spent most of the day watching the news, trying to get in touch with family members, and watched the chaos unfold. We knew everything would be different.

In the years since, we’ve seen how the world has changed. There was an optimism that died that day, and rather than leave a voice a tide of cynicism has filled its place.

Some of it is practical – extra security at the airport makes sense, unless you’re running late for a flight – but we’re also engaged in an infinite war against extremists around the globe, many of whom are fighting because of the war in the first place.

Half of my life has been after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. I can recognize the tragedy of the thousands of lives lost and the attacks on America’s symbols of powers to the world. But we’ve also not gotten past it.

If a friend suffers trauma or heartbreak, they are given time to grieve and process it. But if they brought it up and almost every opportunity for 17 years, your patience would begin to wear thin.

It no longer is a thing that happened to them, but the tragedy begins to be a part of their identity.

As a country, we’ve been holding onto one of the worst days in its history for far too long. It’s lead the nation to become more militaristic and more nationalist and ask anyone from the early 20th century, neither of those traits bode well for the future of a nation.

There’s a reason you don’t see European flags on every building and balcony except for special occasions, they toned it down after a couple of world wars decimated generations of people.

We’ve continued to look inward, to wallow in our misery, rather than reach out an connect with the greater world around us.

And it is only getting worse.

Today, all across the country and world, there will be memorial services honoring those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Millions will maintain a moment of silence to honor the lost lives and the heroes who showed themselves that day and the days and years to follow.

As it should be.

But it doesn’t need to be all the time.

It can magnify other problems, such as people burning their shoes or coffee makers because something is perceived to be un-American (a term that is itself undefined and dangerous), as though adopting all of the trappings of American life was prerequisites to be considered an American.

God help you if you don’t apply pie or Chevrolet, right?

Our country was different than most others. We weren’t founded as a tribe, wandering the world and securing a patch of land to call our own. We began as a state, or rather a series of states, and tried to hammer out a nation from that.

So while other nations can look at their traditions and customs and say “This is what makes us, us,” we’re different. When we were kids,we were taught this is a melting pot, that all sorts of cultures came together. Everyone was welcome.

We know a lot of that was untrue, of course, but we always made efforts to get there so the myth could become reality. Now, instead, out of fear of things we don’t understand, we latched onto a few symbols – a flag, a song, a profession – and elevated them as the Most American, because they were the first things we saw after a great trauma.

It’s time to let go of it. It’s not making us better. Honor the day, but don’t let the toxicity of the tragedy follow you around all year. One day is enough.

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