Never Forget, But Also Pay Attention

Of course, I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. I was home with my five-week-old son, and as the day ticked on, I became more and more afraid for his future.

We now call this day Patriot Day. A patriot is defined as one who loves and supports their country. I’ve always loved my country because of its promise of equality and opportunity for everyone. I want my country to make good on its promise, to actually treat every person here as if they were created equal to every other and worthy of all the same potential.

On this day each year, we pause to remember the 2,977 people who were killed in the terror attacks at three locations in my country. We lower our American flags to half mast, and we stop what we’re doing at the precise times when two hijacked planes struck the twin towers. This year to date, more than 191,000 people have been killed all around my country by COVID-19. Yesterday alone, 915 deaths from COVID-19 were reported. Just two days ago, we learned that President Trump knew how dangerous COVID-19 would be back in January yet deliberately chose to downplay its threat and deliberately chose to not take actions that could have prevented many of the more than 6.4 million people in the US who’ve contracted the virus from ever getting it. When will we pause to remember the 191,000 people our own president sacrificed for his personal gain? On a day sometime in our future, will we honor these victims by lowering our flags or reading their names?

In order to love one’s country, must we not love its people?

On this day in 2001, on our televisions, millions of us watched in horror as a second plane struck the World Trade Center. We watched the twin towers burn, watched them crumble to the ground taking with them everyone inside, watched New Yorkers race down streets trying to outrun plumes of destruction, watched them walk over typically traffic-heavy bridges trying to escape lower Manhattan. Two days ago, the San Francisco Bay area woke up to deep orange skies, the surreal color manifested by massive plumes of smoke from wildfires in Oregon that have so far burned 900,000 acres. More than 500,000 people in Oregon are today under evacuation or preevactuation orders, running for their lives as out of control flames near their homes. Are we watching this, too, in horror?

In order to support one’s country, must we not support its people?

We know who attacked the people of New York City and Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001. We know who highjacked those planes and the lives of the people traveling on them that day. We call those men terrorists, and we’re rightfully angry at them for the lives they stole, lives of family and friends and neighbors, lives of people just going about their business on what they thought would be an ordinary day. Last week, video was released of the death of Daniel Prude in Rochester, New York, a mentally ill man who suffocated inside the spit hood police officers had placed over his head. Last month, police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, after which seventeen-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse shot three people, killing two of them, during a protest over Blake’s shooting. In May, George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis by a police officer who knelt on his neck for several minutes. People who are rightfully angry about lives being stolen are protesting every day and every night. We know who is doing the killing, but will we root out these killers with same fervor as we did the terrorists of 9/11?

In 2001, I feared for my infant son’s future, imagining scenarios in which our country became engaged in a war that would be fought here within our borders. I worried about the relentless terror and devastation such a war could bring. Now I see clearly the threats to our country’s stability that are coming from here within our own borders: the rise of right-wing vigilantism, the militarization of the police, the persistent systemic racism, the disregard for nature, the disdain for science and for education itself. I’m afraid for us all.

If we are to be considered patriots, we must love and support our country by working to make it better. We must strive to make it a place that is safe and secure for everyone here. No one who loves only what this country can do for them personally can be considered a patriot.

Yes, never forget, but also pay attention to what is happening all around us right here, right now. Yes, never forget, but also do better.

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