The morning of Tuesday September 11, I was in Kingston, Ontario on a 4 day bus tour from my home in New Jersey. We had arrived in Kingston Monday evening and were to stay there until Thursday morning with tours planned for Tuesday and Wednesday.
Tuesday at 8:00 AM we left for Ottawa, Ontario which is the capital of Canada. It is a 2 1/2 hour trip and we arrived at Ottawa around 10:45 AM. During that ride the world changed. One thing I keep remembering about that ride is that at some point the air conditioning just stopped working. The bus became very warm. I guess just about the time that the planes were reaching the Towers.
If was only a few minutes after getting off the bus at Parliament Hill in Ottawa that we became aware that something was very wrong. I was watching the guide say something to the people and I saw some people put their hands up to their mouth. I lip read someone who said "Two of them?" When I had a chance I asked this person what was going on and she told me that two planes had been hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.
At the same time we saw police officers arriving and also the press who were starting to interview a few people. I figured that it had something to do with what had just happend. Our group must have been the last group to be allowed to tour the Parliament Building before we were told to go back to our bus and to leave Ottawa for safety reasons. So we returned to Kingston without being able to complete our tour.
Once on the bus someone (not sure if it was a radio) was talking and all I could do was watch the horrified expressions on the faces of the people as they were listening. Several people on the bus who were aware that I was deaf, tried to clue me in from time to time. It was upsetting to be there knowing that something terrible was happening but not being sure just what was going on. When one of the other passengers told me that the border had been shut down all I could think of was that I wanted to go home as soon as possible.
On Wednesday we were able to resume the tour schedule. This included a tour of Kingston, visit to Fort Henry and a boat tour of the Thousand Islands. The slightly cool beautiful day could not have been more perfect. It seemed surreal to be looking at all this beauty and then seeing the Canadian Flag at half staff and the terrible pictures in the newspaper I was reading....
I found the Canadian people to be wonderful. Their concern and horror at what had happened was no less than ours. Some of them had tears in their eyes when they were talking to us. I kept thinking of my Canadian friends here at SayWhatClub. Wishing that we could somehow be together.
The following statement in a local Canadian paper seems to have summed in up...
...."We share their grief and fears, and we also share
their fight. We're all American's now. "
I had nothing to take my mind off of the terrible things that had happened in the couple of days that I was away from home.
I've grown up in a time when it was OK to be proud of your American citizenship but when overt patriotism was not "politically correct." I come from a family that for generations was strong on military service. I seriously considered joining the military myself before starting college. I married a former Army Drill Sergeant. Pride in being American has always been part of who I am. Demonstration of that pride, however, has changed over the years. I recall the feel of the cloth and the visual contrast of the stars and stripes against the bright Arizona skies of my childhood; the sensation of the desert wind catching the flag as it was raised; the sound and emotion of my father's voice as he taught my sisters and I how to show respect for the symbol that thread and fabric embodied.
As the years passed, American society changed and no longer was it a given to see the Stars and Stripes being displayed in front of homes. Once you graduated high school, the words of the Pledge of Allegiance often became a distant memory. For many, the last two words of the National Anthem became "Play ball!" Feelings of pride and patriotism were not generally acknowledged publicly, save for on Independence Day or Memorial Day. The day after those holidays, all the flags and adornments still in the stores are bundled off to the discount tables. Those in homes and businesses are packed away and saved for next year's brief exhibition. Many years ago, while I was still in college, I heard a woman say she wouldn't put her flag out because it "clashes with the color of the house." The person she was speaking to didn't seem to find that attitude remarkable. While I did find it so, I did not have the courage to speak out and voice my feelings of offense. Besides, I asked myself, wasn't I just another person who owned a flag but didn't display it?
That has changed in the past weeks since September 11th. Within hours of the attacks, American flags were out in full view. Within days, there were no flags in the stores, as retailers were selling out of all their stock. By the end of the week, there were no flagpoles, no banners, no bunting left in the stores here. Fabric stores are still able to sell you ribbon, as long as you're not seeking red, white and blue. Everywhere you turn now, there's a flag flying or a sign in a window declaring the inhabitants are "Proud to be American." Ribbons adorn lapels and car antennas. Creative citizens are painting images on picket fences and garage doors. People once again are wearing images of the flag with pride. The Stars and Stripes now grace my own home; while I don't have a flagpole, I do have the ability to display it in a front window. Even my elderly neighbor, whose house is cotton candy pink, has her flag out. It stretches nearly all the way across her double-car garage.
From my corner of the world, way over here on the west coast of the US, life has changed. It has changed in a fundamentally different way than life in Manhattan or Alexandria, Virginia, or even Western Pennsylvania. Yet it is still equally foreign. I join my family, my coworkers and my community in trying to accept and adjust. How do you accept the fact that a faceless, nameless enemy wiped out so many lives? How do you adjust to the fact that part of the population of New York City equivalent to a small American town, currently numbering 6300 people but still rising, are missing with many of them presumed dead? How do you make sense of that? I wish I knew.
In a country that three weeks ago was filled with people gossiping about celebrities' personal lives and arguing over whether some should be responsible for bearing the cost of providing for basic needs of others, I can't help but notice the difference between "then" and "now." Countless choruses of "God Bless America" and "The Star Spangled Banner" have been sung. Thousands of candles have been lighted in vigils. Hundreds of prayers and messages of shared grief, support and comfort have been sent to those who suffer and those who toil in the wreckage. We know full well that today, those groups are often one and the same.
The spirit of the American people encourages me. Yet I have to wonder whether this demonstrative rush of patriotism is something that is going to stay among the masses. I have high hopes that one of the things we will never forget, as a direct result of the events of September 11, 2001, is the renewed acceptance of demonstrating our patriotism and pride in being Americans. I have hope that we will continue to fly the flag. I have hope that we will not forget the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and further that we will recite them from the heart, not just from memory. I have hope that my children will not experience the same lack of emotion and passion for the symbols of our country that were the hallmark of my coming of age in America.
Here's hoping that we will never again look at an American flag on display in front of a bright pink house and say anything but "Hey, that looks pretty good to me!"
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