Here’s to Hoping

            Being
born in 1980 puts me at the tail end of Generation X.  Unlike my Greatest Generation grandparents, known for their
patriotism and work ethic, or my Boomer parents, whose generation was known for being free-spirited activists, my generation had the happy reputation of
being cynical about the world we grew up in, but too lazy or apathetic to do
anything about it.  As a bit of a
dreamer, a naïve optimist, I’d like to think I had eschewed such an attitude as
a teen and young adult.  Looking
back, I know I had not.  I had
pages of notes on how to fix the world, but scoffed when my high school history
teacher suggested my argumentative classmates and I go into politics.  Politicians were corrupt, scheming old
men; did he really think that was all we were good for?  Of course, we missed the real message:
if you’re so passionate about change, go out and create some.  Still, when the time came that I was
old enough to vote, I did.  My
first voting experience was the presidential deception, I mean, election of
2000.  It left a bitter taste in my
mouth for all things American or patriotic.

            But
like many people in my generation, September 11
th changed me and my
views of my country.  It was a
defining moment in our lives, the way Pearl Harbor or President Kennedy’s
assassination was for the generations that preceded us.  That night, when I finally pulled
myself away from the horrific images on TV, I went into my childhood bedroom
and did what I had done after nearly every important event in my life; I
wrote.  Too weary to worry about my
verse, I scribbled out two simple, honest paragraphs:

            As
an American, I have always felt I walked with a shield over my head.  I walked in a protective shroud of red,
white, and blue.  Now I feel our
nation wears a target, drawing aim from all the world’s evil and madmen.  Today I felt small, weak, angry, and
numb, all at once.  I felt nothing,
because I could not feel everything such terror causes one to feel.  Today I heard horror and fright in the
voices of those I love, and it only deepened my own horror and fear.  Today I watched people cheer and
children gleefully burn the flag that I revere, and it made me sick.  Does that child really delight in the
crushed skulls and charred flesh of a thousand mothers and fathers, simply
because we live under a flag of certain colors?

            Yesterday
I lived under a flag of steel. 
Today our flag was on fire. 
Tomorrow it will cover the coffins of thousands who were murdered with
such ruthlessness and cowardice. 
And as for the tomorrows to come, the action of the American nation will
determine whether that flag, the symbol of a free and independent nation, will
ever soar triumphant against the winds or forever sag as a sign of what once
was.

             Clearly,
that night I was still doubtful, afraid–but not cynical.  My cynicism had burned away in the
flames that ravished the Pentagon. 
And just a five days later my hope arose like the flag raised over the rubble
of the Twin Towers.  I was back to
writing poetry.

 9/16/01

            And
so we are a nation with a heart of steel,

            A
grade of which will not buckle or blaze in tragic times.

            We
are a people whose hearts are free and determined to fight

            for
that which has been fought for and won so many times before.

            Old
and young rally to the flag and wear the colors with pride.

            What
Monday we took for granted,

            today
we appreciate deeply and cling to so dearly.

            America
is the land of opportunity,

            out
of tragedy will rise heroes.

            Those
who previously pondered, “What’s to come?”

            “Where
have the ‘Greatest Generations’ gone?”

            look
around you, for they are being born.

            Young
boys and men have yielded playing games, and picked up shovels.

            Children
look to their mothers and teachers eagerly,

            “I
am young, but not useless, lead me.”

            And
let us lead them not to a land of fear and unfulfilled promises,

            but
to a land of the Free,

            a
home of the Brave.

            A
week ago, I would have reread my own words from that fall and raised a brow, questioning the
sincerity of such seemingly sappy phrases.  Because in the decade that’s passed a bit of that old
cynicism has crept back in, causing patriotism to be placed back onto the same
shelf as idealistic naïveté. 
Watching the news today, though, reminded me that those feelings were
very real and sincere. 

            This
morning, for the first time in a long time, I really listened to the words I
was saying as I recited the Pledge of Allegiance along with my students, and I
felt honored to have the opportunity to do so.  And when one of my students couldn’t be serious and quiet
for the ten-second moment of silence we observed for the victims of 9/11, I was
furious.  A part of me wished I
could have dragged him back in time to that morning, so that he could
understand what it was like to be twenty-one, and yet feel helpless, useless,
and afraid as he watched the institutions that were the symbols of his nation
be destroyed by hate.  I wanted him
to appreciate, like I now do, how lucky we are to live as we do.  With a few hours of reflection under my
belt, though, the better, more patient part of me hopes he can live out the
rest of his privileged youth never truly understanding what we all felt that
day.  Perhaps his generation will
be lucky enough to escape having a horrific event to unify them; perhaps they’ll
know peace.  And wouldn’t that
truly be the greatest generation?

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