When Baby Girl was 8 years old, we started a scrapbook. We took photos and collected little keepsakes to stick to the pages until the book had a bulging middle that rivaled a pampered dog’s.
It was September when we started the book, which we completed a few months later. The process of making it was fun but that’s not why we did it. It was a patriotic scrapbook, filled with photos of church signs reading, “God Bless America,” and business signs reading “United We Stand.” We took photos of houses painted red, white and blue and collected commemorative postcards that said, “Never Forget.” On some pages, we pasted small lapel ribbons and patriotic buttons.
We were making a tribute to the red, white and blue tide of patriotism that flowed through the country in the weeks following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The reason for making the book was a tragic, but its contents lifted us on a tide of pride and carried us in the uncertain times that followed.
It was a time when every person in America was hurting. It was a time when every person wanted to show their love for our nation. We were united.
Back then, as overwhelmed as we all felt, I couldn’t have imagined it would take less than 20 years for people to forget. But it did. That feeling of unity and togetherness and collective pride no longer exists.
Our nation is more divided now than I’ve known it in my 56 years. Some folks will point to other chaotic times in our history – Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, presidential assassinations – and say, “Those were bad times, too.” Yes, there have been plenty of bad times in our history. This one seems different to me, though. Worse. Perhaps it’s because I’m older and have a better understanding but I don’t think so. I think we have become ruder, meaner and more selfish in the past 20 years. We feel entitled to what we want, no matter how much getting it might hurt someone else.
Twenty years ago, if anyone had described today’s America, I would have emphatically said, “no way.” I wouldn’t have believed the things we do to one another today. Some blame social media and I’m sure it has had an impact. The only thing I know for sure is that my grandmothers would be shocked and sickened to watch us interact these days.
Does it take a national tragedy on the scale of 9/11 to shock us into working together again? Into helping one another? Into being kind? Or just stop acting as if we’re the only ones with needs and wants and rights?
I hope not … but we’re in the middle of a global tragedy right now and we seem to have learned nothing.