What America means to me

I remember waking up to the horror of September 11, 2001 by the sound of my mother screaming my name from the bottom of the stairwell.

“We’re under attack!”

Foggy brained, having slept in my jeans from the night before working as an unloader at Walmart I sat up.

What? Are we under attack?

Are the neighbors invading? There’s a zombie apocalypse? Has Canada become sick of our shit?

“They’ve hit the World Trade Center and the White House.”

Who? Who has hit the what?

Okay. I was up and half asleep worked my way downstairs to figure out what was going on.

I walked into the living room where my dad was watching the news when the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

“Dad, what movie are you watching.”

“It’s not a movie.”

My life changed that day as we watched the news. As we watched the scene change from New York City to The Pentagon as another passenger jet had driven into the side leaving a gaping black hole of destruction and smoke.

We watched as both towers in New York crumbled and fell upon the inhabitants.

I fell asleep to CNN that night and woke the next day with the news media at the scene of what had now been declared an “act of terror”.

America, the beautiful, had been devastated by the loss of over 3,000 of our citizens of all walks of life, in just a few minutes.

I was in shock. The sound of airplanes overhead (fighter jets patrolling the skies) for the very first time in my life scared me. Terrified me.

Later that night, as the shock wore off, after watching hours of grown men and women holding pictures of their loved ones near the site of the World Trade Center begging anyone that would listen to them with tears in their eyes, I wept.

I knew a war was coming. Months later, I signed up for the Army.

I served for the loss of those at the World Trade Center, The Pentagon, and in the Pennsylvania field. I served for those whose lives were taken aboard those aircraft that had been hijacked by 15 people from a far-off place. And I served to protect my home, my family, and all free peoples of the world.

There were a lot of people dead. The enemy hit soft targets. And, in their hatred of us, there was a sort of universal equality in their decision that is ironic. To those 15 hijackers, “All Men (universally speaking) were indeed created equal”. They were all American. Those 15 men, in just a few hours, managed to do what this country couldn’t do in over 200 years of this nation’s existence.

It didn’t matter if they were white, black, gay, straight, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, or Jew. It didn’t matter of their victims were disabled, saintly, criminal, a banker, an investor, or a janitor staff in those buildings.

Afterward, there was a sense of unity throughout the country. Rural areas rose funds, donated blood, and volunteers from all across the country went to Ground Zero to do the work in a pit of absolute horror.

In these days of national unrest, civil disobedience, inhumane treatment of non-citizens, an economy that serves no human purpose, and a very aroused republic, I can’t help but think of America’s future.

There’s a lot of fear among the populace. Fear of ‘other’ and fear of “Tyranny.”

I can’t help but wonder if Osama Bin Laden, while dead thanks to the actions of the Navy Seals and President Obama’s orders, is closer to winning posthumously while the citizens of this country and citizens all over the western world have started to turn on each other.

Politics of discord, and of hate, have risen up from the depths of a hell we thought we’d banished them to 60 years ago. Things are being said about people and done to people we thought as a country we’d put aside. Was it a lack of vigilance? Was it a lack of watchfulness? Was it trading liberty for security? Or was it all of these things?

I am unsure. All I know is that America doesn’t feel like the country I lived in prior to 9/11.

Today, there is a necessary and terrible question concerning foreign influence upon our Chief Executive, President Donald Trump who seemed to skate right into the White House despite all the things he’s said about fellow citizens, journalists, POW’s, women, the disabled, and his love affair with tyrants all over the world.

Yet, despite all of that, despite the white-hot conversation taking place in the marketplace of ideas, on the news, across social media, and in our homes today. I realize something I should have realized when I saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center tower.

That America is an idea. And ideas once put forth, cannot be destroyed.

It can’t be destroyed by terrorism. It can’t be destroyed by hate, by fear, nor by tyranny. Nor can it be destroyed by referring to its guardians, The Media, as “Fake News.”

Our founders, while imperfect in all ways imaginable, lit a match that caused an inferno to sweep the globe. Ideas of liberty, freedom, equality, while not yet fully realized at any time in this country is the shining city on the hill that we strive for. Those ideals are to Americans as Canaan was to the wandering children of Israel. A land of Milk, and Honey, a land of safety and prosperity, and peace.

America is about hope. It’s hoped that those immigrants who seek our shores, and our borders, who cross thousands of miles in unrelenting heat, toils, and snares, see. It’s a promise that they can see that sometimes even we, as Americans, are blind to.

This great apocalypse that is Donald Trump, this great “uncovering” of the truth, has exposed a country terrified of shadow and uncertainty that he capitalized on.

Try as he may, however, he nor others like him, nor foreign interests in our electoral system, can ever make that shining city on the hill grow dark as long as we hold the truths that were declared self-evident that all men are created equal, in our hearts.

That is what America means to me.

Look to the Battlefield, Gladiator.

FILE – Int his Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif. Reid has resumed his kneeling protest for human rights during the national anthem, after joining then-teammate Kaepernick’s polarizing demonstration last season. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File) ORG XMIT: NYHK702

Dear Football Player,

I really wanted my first blog on my new site to be about books. I wanted it to be about reading, and the craft that  I love so much.   Alas, here we are talking about football.

I am not a big sports guy. I used to play baseball when I was a kid but that was the extent of my sports knowledge.

However, the National Football League has decided that the men who play their sport – mostly black men – no longer have their permission to kneel during the playing of The National Anthem.

Colin Kaepernick started a national conversation with his decision to kneel in recognition of the men and women throughout the United States who’ve been killed in the streets because of a lack of Due Process. Crimes committed by white police officers who were either never charged for it or who were charged and simply got away with it.

Many of these incidents including Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, a little kid with a toy gun named Tamir Rice, and a man who’d been choked to death in New York named Eric Garner,  have left their families without justice.

These football players in the NFL, 80 percent of whom are African American, have drawn a lot of criticism for their stance. Criticism from President Donald Trump and from football fans who expect these men to play a game for their entertainment and say that because they make X amount of dollars they should be quiet.

The NFL, receiving a lot of flak,  has recently ruled that players cannot kneel in the upcoming season or risk fines and other punishments including ones that would impact the game they are playing.

As a United States veteran, someone who joined after 9/11 and because of 9/11, who deployed the middle east in support of Operation Iraq Freedom, who wore the uniform and swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, I’d like to make it clear to these football players that the permission to protest (or not to in this case) is not granted by the Nation Football League.

During the war, it was often said by the Bush Administration et. al that “Freedom isn’t Free,” and that “We have to defend it.” Well, the same rules apply here.

Gladiator, you’re right to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem was granted to you long before you were ever born.  Long before the NFL was actually a thing. You’re ancestors, my ancestors, the founders and the foundation builders of this country paid for your right to kneel in protest.  Every person who has ever worn the uniform of the United States of America, every Civil Rights activist who marched in Selma, or Montgomery, or was assassinated for your right to live is a member of this society – has paid for your right to kneel.

Those hanged by white mobs during the lynching years paid for you. Those who served in the Civil War – paid for you.

Sure, there are going to be people who don’t like it. Mostly, because they know what you’re kneeling for and believe (in one way or another) that the right to harm black bodies and possess black minds, still belongs to them. It’s an ignorance and an anger as old as this country is.

But as rights go – never, ever look to the masses to bestow them on you. That’s never been the way of things here in the United States. Rights are fought for through long and often perilous battles and right now America is at war with itself. Two ideologies are engaged in this uproarus debate for the soul of our country.

If you so feel inclined to kneel. I hope you have the courage to do so. And if you need a little more courage to push you over the edge, when you are standing in the locker room before the game, like Maya Angelou once said, summon the spirits of those who’ve dreamed you into being to escort you onto that field.

Summon those soldiers who died. Summon those Civil Rights Activists who’ve died. Invoke the founders. Invoke the spirit of our country when you take to that field.  Invoke God who granted you inalienable rights and have Jesus meet you on the 50-yard line.

You would then honor them, the flag, the anthem, and your ancestors. Therein lies your permission, Gladiator.

 

P.S. NFL, back off.  This isn’t your lookout.