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A Day of Respect

On this anniversary of the greatest attack on America that ever took place, many people, including ourselves, are setting aside commercialism in favor of reflection upon - or digestion of - the events of that year.  It is a year which has changed the face of America.  Unlike most media-hyped events - Clinton's indiscretions, O.J.'s trial, breaking of Babe Ruth's record, corporate scandals, choosing the latest American idol - all of which sink eventually with little trace into the deep sea of past interests - the terrorist attack of 9/11 has changed not only the skyline of New York but the very fabric of our society.

Today is a day of mourning.  Mourning for lost friends and relatives.  Mourning for a loss of a feeling of security (as in "this kind of thing only happens in other countries").  Loss of economic well-being.  Loss of a feeling of safety (as in "skyscrapers are built to withstand anything"). 

The mourning will never go away as long as those of us who experienced it are still living.  But just as our attitude has changed over to past year from a sharp sense of outrage, terror, total unbelief and anger, to one of grief and even acceptance, in the coming years our memories of 9/11 will migrate to a deep regret for what might have been.

I would like to see 9/11 set aside as a National Holiday, not "holiday" as in gaiety, but as in its original meaning, a "Holy Day".  And not one of parades, grief and clearing of tombstones as Memorial Day or Veterans' Day, but instead, a National Day of Respect.  

Respect for the American sprit - for those who sacrificed their life and health to support others.  For those who did the right thing - especially for those who plunged an airliner to their death, willingly, into a Pennsylvania forest rather that see one more skyscraper or seat of government go down.  For those who sacrificed much and worked tirelessly to repair the damage.

And more - a respect for others' beliefs.  Not necessarily their actions, but their opinions and lifestyles, as long as they are not actively harming another.

Let me give you an example.  In the fifties and sixties, my husband and I were civil rightists, or "rabble-rousers" as many would have preferred to call us.  We had two beloved neighbors, both of whom are now passed on, who were born and bred in the South as "good old boys" and truly believed persons of African descent were of lesser intelligence and ability.  And who firmly believed blacks (and women) should be kept in their place.  They only hired minorities for menial jobs, rented to or socialized with "their own kind", wanted their women to do as they were told and keep their mouths shut, wished the schools would remain segregated, and despaired of the old Allapattah being "taken over" by Hispanics and people of other colors, cultures and languages.   I was at one neighbor's home talking with his wife when the TV news came on with the first-ever black co-anchor in Miami.  I was afraid our neighbor was going to have a stroke and was actually ready to call rescue. 

These two neighbors, however, both very firmly supported our right to our opinions and actions, even when we had mixed-race couples as guests at barbecues, for instance, or when I fought for equal rights for women.  One actually threatened another neighbor with mayhem if she intruded on our multi-cultural party with intentions of breaking it up.

What's the point?  I deplored their beliefs, as they no doubt deplored mine, but we respected each other's right to think what we wanted.  Not only that, but we learned from each other.  I learned just how deeply ingrained their beliefs were, programmed at their parents' knees, and how it affected their ability to adapt.  And they learned that maybe - just maybe - they were wrong about some things, and that the world was changing around them whether they liked it or not.  We respected and loved each other despite a great ravine of differences.

I tried to raise my children the same way.  I would sometimes tell them when the going got rough, "You can think what you want to think, and believe what you want, and even say what you think, but in the end you'll have to do what I tell you.  Later on you can make your own choices and suffer your own consequences."

Most of the attacks and persecutions throughout history are based not only on the desire for power and wealth, but partly on belief that "the others" are wrong and even evil.  This is why the Al Queda organization initiated such a repressive regime in Afghanistan, and why they attacked us; to destroy that perceived evil.  That was a basis for the Inquisition, for the Holocaust, for the Japanese drive to conquer in WWII.  You cannot harm others unless you believe they are wrong or inferior.

I am doubly proud to be an American today.  In the past year there have been a few counter-incidents against Arabs in our communities, nor against their Mosques.  Americans in general have behaved exceedingly well.  Perhaps as our country becomes more multi-cultural and even multi-lingual, we are less rigid in our attitudes.  We are growing up.  We are beginning to understand and separate the actions from the beliefs.

We must continue to grow in our respect for differences of opinion, faith, belief, persuasion and customs.   We must respect (and this is very hard for me, personally) the current Arab viewpoint that women are subjugated to men and must be physically covered, restricted in activities, etc.  (Incidentally, I was raised in a fundamental Christian home not so many years ago where this was the rule, and I disagreed and rebelled against it constantly).   We must even respect those Moslem women who choose that way of life, or are simply afraid to shed the burkha.  But we must also respect AND DEFEND those women who do not accept this, or who are mutilated against their will in so-called "female circumcision", or are punished or executed for the same offense for which a man would go free.  We must defend and support the rights of females and minorities in Arab and some other countries to receive equal health care and education.  We must do more to cease our support of child labor and virtual slave labor to produce goods in poor countries, goods that we then buy cheaply, use and discard at a shameful rate.  And we must insist that those countries also respect our own views and customs, especially those of our women in the military and in government positions who are stationed overseas.

We don't have to go to war to do this.  But we may have to make some sacrifices.  Economic and trade sanctions, or offers of aid tied to changes, can be effective.  If we immediately begin to develop existing alternative energy sources, for instance, not only would we soon have a cleaner, healthier environment, but could stop pouring petroleum cash into countries that misuse those funds against portions of their own population and often against other countries as well.

And we must also find a way to do that which is almost impossible for any human being - deeply respect points of view contrary to our own even as we battle for human rights in general and for our own way of life.  

We are all children of Eve - that's a proven scientific fact.  We are all cousins.  We are co-citizens of one great beautiful blue and white planet.  Some believe that we all share the same God(s), and that there are many roads to the same destination.  Some even believe that on some level we share a common consciousness or intelligence, as reputedly accessed by some psychics and shamans, and there is some hard evidence for this point of view.  

I would like to see 9/11 put aside as a National Day of Respect, not only to remember and mourn, but to celebrate.  Celebrate the American spirit, our courage in the face of disaster, our unwavering determination to overcome attacks, tragedies and traumas, and our freedom, unequaled almost anywhere else in the world.  A day when schools, banks, government offices and most businesses close, to give us time to reflect on the past and on our future.  A day to wave our flag, and also a day to shake hands with our neighbors and celebrate life, even in the face of death.  I would like to see it become a Day of Respect dedicated to education and exchanges as to other beliefs, other's viewpoints, and not only our differences but the ways in which we are all the same.  A day to partake of each other's cultures.  Only by deeply understanding others' beliefs, needs and attitudes will solutions be found to the world's problems.

We will never forget.  But good can result from any experience, no matter how terrible, if we let it come.

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