Yesterday was 9/11, Patriot Day, the anniversary of the attack in 2001 on the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon and the crash of Flight 93 near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
It is a somber day of reflection and remembrance.
Most Americans will never forget their horror as they watched the evening news showing the shocking scenes of devastation and the brave first responders trying to save as many people as possible, often sacrificing their own lives in the process.
Americans were joined together in their grief and their love of country and fellow citizens.
They wanted to bring to justice those responsible for the horrific murders.
The children born in the aftermath of that awful event are turning 17 this year. They are the children of a new reality in America that began on that dreadful day so many years ago.
We’ll come back to 9/11 in a moment.
There is a celebrated short story by Nathanial Hawthorne called “The Minister’s Black Veil,” and if you haven’t read it, you should check it out (here is a link: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/ministersblackveil.html ).
It is about a Puritan minister (oh, no, not those Puritans again) who shows up for services one Sunday with a black veil hiding his face.
This once beloved minister becomes feared by his congregation, but he refuses to take the veil off even unto his burial.
The congregation, which is obsessed with sinners more than sin as Puritans often were (Hawthorne’s ancestors were Puritans, so he knew what he was talking about), believes the minister is hiding his own sin instead of realizing the veil represents the sins hidden by ALL in their hearts.
The people gossip about him, avoid him, and, all because of that mysterious black veil, completely isolate him. Even though he has not changed in his mannerisms, his sermons, or his approach to services, the people have changed their attitude toward him. He has become the “other.”
Of course, this is the opposite of what the Bible taught them. Jesus instructed people to love their neighbors as themselves. And yes, He included Pharisees, Levites, Samaritans, tax collectors and prostitutes—all others.
He also explained that all that is done for the least of those in this world is done for Him.
America has a history of rejecting others who look different, come from different places with different customs or have different religions.
That explains the way some people have treated blacks, the Chinese, Mexicans, Native Americans, Jews and others. Fortunately, our government, Constitution and courts began to protect the rights of people in past years.
Who are the “others” persecuted by some Americans today? Well, since the terrorists who flew planes into our buildings were Muslims, they have become a prime target.
Obviously, not all Muslims are evil killers; however, some Americans want to treat them all that way—citizens, refugees and immigrants.
The same can be said about Latinos, blacks, and other groups. Some are prejudiced toward people with different sexual orientations, women, people with disabilities—the list in America is long of those classified as different or the “other.”
Back to 9/11
In its aftermath, authorities vowed to protect Americans from future terrorist attacks, and they have been pretty successful, although we have not been so successful with domestic terrorists as in Charleston, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Parkland and dozens of other American cities (some close to home).
So why such an intense focus on the “other,” people who are perceived as different, as opposed to domestic terrorists who tend to be, in most cases, white males? Could it be fear and prejudice of others with different backgrounds, color, etc.?
Think for a moment about those seventeen-year-olds of today.
In the last couple of years, they have been bombarded with statements about Mexicans being rapists and murderers or Muslims being killers.
They have seen leaders make fun of disabled people, say that Africans live in s**t hole countries and call black Americans who protest racial injustice SOB’s.
They have heard leaders brag about grabbing women’s private parts and payoffs to porn stars who are later demonized.
They have seen leaders blatantly lie—repeatedly. They have seen our leaders call Nazis and white supremacists “fine people.” They have seen women demeaned or called “low IQ” because they dared to raise an opposing voice.
They have witnessed Latino asylum seekers have children taken from parents and placed in cage-filled camps. This only scratches the surface.
Our children have learned misguided lessons about others. They have been taught to fear and berate those who are different from them. They have also been taught subtle lessons from some religious leaders and others who have turned a blind eye to all of this.
Fortunately, there are citizens who have been fighting this societal barrage of hatred. They have tried to teach children that all people are created equal, that poor people are not all lazy but might just need a helping hand and that diversity has made America great.
They teach, of course, that love of country is essential, but caring about people—all people—regardless of race, religion, color or other attributes is also important.
Hawthorne, in his allegorical story, describes people who say they have religious values, but shun and are afraid of differences in people or the unknown.
He is illustrating the hypocrisy of professing faith but not living it. Hawthorne disdained this hypocrisy.
Racial prejudice, discrimination, persecution and hatred of the “other” has been around long before 9/11, but in the last few years, it has grown exponentially.
Instead of hiding it in their hearts from others as Hawthorne professed many did, it is now proudly proclaimed by some citizens and leaders.
Prejudice and hatred are out in the open. If we can teach our children how wrong it is and help them embrace lessons of love and charity, perhaps we can move closer to the more accepting society filled with liberty and justice for all that the Founding Fathers envisioned.
Hawthorne’s story was published in 1832, and he called it “a parable.” Someone else taught in parables over 2000 years ago, but it would seem that some may have forgotten the references and meanings.
On Patriot Day we remember the victims of the horrendous attack on America, but we should also remember our basic goodness and humanity as a people.
Let us never forget.
Steve Frey is a writer and CEO of Ascendant Educational Services based in Radford.