Since September 11, 2001, much has happened in my life and the world. We’re currently on the brink of a questionable war, smack in the middle of a rare arctic chill continuing to do our best to live well in an unwell world. It’s scary and it stinks. So, driving home the other morning, following a chaotic night shift in delivery under the auspices of a full moon AND a significant shift in barometric pressure (two conditions destined to commence labor AND catastrophe), I was mildly annoyed at the condition of the American flags hanging from overpasses along the highway.
Tattered and worn, shredded and dotted with holes and dirt, they struck me as an eyesore. More than once I wished someone would remove them thinking they no longer reflected the crisp patriotic symbolism we had all come to embrace post 9/11. In some ways I think I couldn’t bear to see them flapping weakly in the breeze, barely recognizable from the beautiful bright American flags reflective of my idea of the United States of America…
Certainly I couldn’t be the only one disturbed by their condition over and over again driving by…Beaten down; useless; No longer regal. Just as quickly I would push that thought to some recess of my overburdened mind, and drive on toward home.
Some say there are defining moments in our lives that we will not ever forget. Events which, like discovered fossils, impress and imprint in such a manner that they are forever etched in our memory banks. Gone, but not forgotten. Something along those lines…September eleventh will never require the year attached in reference to the event. We all know the date…We dread it….We all remember and can’t ever forget. Those memories keep drifting in and out like wisps of smoke from embers of a flame once furious and over time, significantly silenced. Those shredded flags made me remember over and over again, all the feelings I personally experienced that day…..
I spent the night time portion of 9/11 working in labor and delivery. Often I felt as though I should simply move into the suite since I was there so often. I don’t recall the circumstances or any of the patients I treated. Nor can I bring to mind the names of any of the nurses there with me…It was to be the last of any of my relatively benign night shifts. If asked who the call doctor was I might have known prior to the twin towers. Not after or at least, not that night.
What DOES come to mind is waking up to a magnificent brilliantly sunny September morning immersed in guilt because I was just too tired to get up and bring my little ones, ages one, three and four to the playground, as I had promised. I hoped they would forgive me. I knew they wouldn’t understand. I gave thanks that my husband was downstairs feeling well and caring for them. I reflected how fortunate I was. Ironic, when I look back at that time.
On my way to the bathroom I discovered the clock had stopped, and turned on the TV to check the time. At the exact moment I did that, I watched in surreal horror and disbelief as a plane hit the second tower. The correspondent was teary and emotional. I thought I must be dreaming and changed the channel. Again and again and again. When reality hit me a moment or two later, I wished but then knew it must not be a dream. The events were all too real. I was too horrified to cry but knew I must collect myself and be with my family.
Downstairs I heard various timbres of voices filtering through the door. I paused there then, to hear the laughter. I peered in to the room, unseen by them, and watched the little ones play excitedly with their daddy and each other. Memorizing the pure joy on their faces, I remember being struck by the sad fact that whatever transpired, their lives would not ever be the same. I savored the moment and then, in silent agony, with tears streaming down my face, I hugged my husband and babies, and related what I had just seen. I called our oldest son and felt an almost if not definite primal urge to be among those people I loved most in the world. Together, in silence, my husband and I prayed for those whose loved ones couldn’t come home.
“God would make it so no one was hurting,” piped up our four year old. If only that were true I thought..
The night shift of nine eleven, no one really spoke of the events. No one had to. We all clung together and no one was floated that night. We did receive a labor patient but her tears were mostly due to sadness and not pain. What should have been a joyous occasion for her and her family would forever be equated with one of the saddest events known to America. She relayed that she desperately hoped she would deliver after midnight, but delivered just a bit before. She cradled her infant son and with tears of joy tempered with sadness, she said a prayer to the effect that she hoped we all someday could figure out a way to fix these horrible differences and stop the violence. Later, to me privately, she verbalized her fear of having to ever let go of her child. I hugged her and it didn’t have to be spoken that I felt the same. For both of us, our children, our families and the world, we said a not so silent prayer. That night I think we all cried for the innocence this new baby and all our children had already lost.
On the way home early that morning, I was surprised but not at all shocked by the Patriotism unfolding around me. It got to the point that stores ran out of flags, and red, white and blue ribbon. We were nicer to each other. Surrounded with crisp new flags on cars, houses and hanging from overpasses, I felt that heartfelt swelling of pride reserved usually, for special occasions and hoped beyond hope that it would continue long after the initial sting had passed. I, like all I saw that day and for quite some time afterwards was and will be forever proud to be an American.
Now those same flags are in shreds. They are tattered, worn and barely hanging from the spots they adorn. It pains me to admit, although briefly, I did consider them to be an embarrassment due to their wary, dilapidated condition. I wondered how others must feel at their wary sight.
Then, it occurred to me that is the very thing which makes them special. Real reminders that however horrific the circumstance and despite however long it takes, we Americans may be the worse for wear, but we will forever be present and vigilant, not unlike our resilient, beautiful, faded but glorious American Flag. Like them, whose shreds whip around in wicked wind and all the elements time and circumstance can muster, we will persevere and eventually prevail. We always have and will forever continue to do so. We will NOT give in.
These days when I pass beneath aged flags I once imagined should be removed and even replaced, I catch myself and think back to that awful dark day when cowardly terrorists elected to harm innocent people for no good reason, separating not only Americans but innocent people from around the world like so much discarded unimportant garbage…Misguided cowards who take everything yet give nothing to the world. Deviants who claim to speak for Allah much as uninformed people would dare to speak for God.
My heart hurts to think of the needless suffering, and conversely, swells with pride at the actions of so many people, Americans by birth, by choice, or both. I am also touched by the people worldwide who grieved and continue to grieve along with us. Thankyou.
Each time I catch even a brief glimpse of one of those well worn flags, it brings me back to that day and honors each victim in my mind, heart and soul.
I thank God, Allah and every person’s personal concept of a higher power for those tattered flags because the message they convey is one of hope, resilience, recovery and someday, of a world more interested and invested in peace versus hate.
If all I can do is raise my children to respect themselves, each other, their families and friends, take pride in the privilege of being Americans, and continue to be open to the ideas, thoughts and customs of other cultures, then I will have done my personal part in promoting peace .
Now, each time I see a worn, world weary flag sputtering in the wind, I see a remnant of hope, and hope, like a tattered flag, is something that no one can ever take away.
Written by: Martha J. Crowninshield O’Brien 01/24/03
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