I will never forget that feeling. We drove to the next town over to buy gas, and we sat in line, waiting. The prices steadily rose until someone important finally said, “No, put the prices back where they belong.”
We filled each of our vehicles out of fear that the gas supplies would run out. We wanted to get gas before the prices skyrocketed more than they already had.
I remember seeing lines outside of Red Cross Blood Donation centers. People decided to donate from their very bodies, people who had not donated before. I remember how much we wanted to come together and provide for the people affected.
I remember that feeling of unity, and then I remember a more powerful feeling mimicking that unity: hate.
In 2001, conservatives taught me their knowledge of Islamic faith, about evil Middle Eastern countries, and about Jihad. Not one bit of that knowledge contained a sliver of untwisted truth – most justly racist and imperialistic propaganda – but I learned that “those people” hated freedom and America.
I learned to hate the other. And I learned that patriotism required me to hate.
And so I did. I supported a plan to turn the Middle East – except Israel – into a glowing sheet of glass with our nuclear bombs. I wanted war so we could do…something…I honestly have no idea what goal I thought the war had, but I wanted it.
We had an opportunity, 18 years ago, to say that we care only about the content of your character and become a nation of unending lines outside blood donation centers and responding to acts of terror with love, compassion, and strength of character. We could have become the nation of our ideals and our promises.
Instead we allowed the bigots, racists, and war hawks to create a culture of hatred of the other. They convinced us that, if we did not hate the other, we desired more attacks on our soil. Many of us – especially young, impressionable minds like mine – just went along with it.
“We’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way!” We rallied around songs calling us to respond to terror with violence and hatred.
And please, do not misunderstand me. Terrorists exist and desire to create terror for some abstract and unattainable goal, but their religion serves as a tool to their terror, not a cause. The Muslim doctor in a hijab had no desire to kill me – or even convert me – as we discussed DNR/DNI options with a patient during my CPE, and plenty of white, Christian men have killed people this year alone in an attempt to do something I cannot comprehend while using their “faith” as the justification.
We could have done better. We failed. But maybe we can try to do better.
I will never forget. I will never forget images of first responders running into the towers, condemning themselves to death in a futile attempt to save people. I will never forget hearing the phone calls from Flight 93 and the heroics of the passengers that saved lives. I will never forget the feeling of fear and the realization that we, too, could experienced violence of that degree on our mainland. I will never forget that terrorists attacked us and want to destroy us.
But I will not let that memory become a path to hate. If you want to do something to remember, make this a day of charity and hospitality. Donate blood, donate to aid agencies, volunteer, learn first aid, renew your CPR certification.
Make this a day of good, not a day of justifying hatred and lifting up “good will” without doing anything.