Since its first anniversary was marked in 2002, it seems there is no day throughout the year when our thoughts turn more to peace than on 9/11.
We have a collective experience of that day that will never perish.
We are stilled by a shared grief that haunts us even now.
We have a communal memory of a country that seemed to be, at least for a time, united.
But so often these days, both in the internet world and in conversation with each other, we bemoan the lack of civility. We yearn for that unity. We proclaim its passing, predict the end of our union as one people, plan for what would seem to be the irrevocable division of us all.
We fear we are far too divided, polarized, different one from the other, for that to ever be.
I say no.
A few days ago our small-ish town found out we are one of the lucky communities across our country who will welcome refugees from Afghanistan.
Many folks don’t know that Bowling Green, Kentucky is a bustling hub of international activity. Our town is enriched by folks from all across the globe: the Congo, Cambodia, Vietnam, Russia, Bosnia, Senegal, Burma, Serbia, Micronesia, Iraq, and many more.
In the last two decades our International Center has helped resettle over twelve thousand people.
Ninety different languages are spoken in our public schools.
We boast four mosques/Islamic centers and a Hindu temple.
This in the heart of the Bible belt.
Has every single Warren Countian treated our new residents warmly and with respect? I would guess, probably not. But, more importantly, the majority of us have.
Are each of the refugees who land here going to be terrific citizens? I would guess, probably not (note the terrorist attack planned by two from Iraq who settled here, stored weapons here, and were foiled here). But, more importantly, the majority of them are good citizens.
And when the announcement was made that two hundred people seeking safe harbor from what has now become Afghanistan were on their way, our community started stepping up.
But. But, you say.
People are prejudiced. People are hateful. People are loathe to accept those unlike themselves and this will never work.
Yes, some people are all of those things. But, at their core,
People. Are. People.
Last week we attended a small family birthday celebration at Percy Priest Lake near Nashville.
The sky was blue. The water was clear. The park was bustling with activity, with gatherings at every single picnic table, and more on blankets.
The mood: humming with human interaction at its best. Quiet, but happy.
Many different ethnic groups enjoyed this public space.
Many different religions did as well. A white-robed group speaking a language uncommon to my ears performed baptisms in the lake water, each ceremony heralded by blasts from a large, curved horn while, within shouting distance, Muslim families gathered together for their own picnics and celebrations.
You know what I saw that day, in that park?
We weren’t all sitting together at the exact same table, but we were in the exact same space.
Under the same sky. In the shade of the same trees. Beside the same, clear blue water.
It was a perfect moment of America at its best.
But. But. But, you say.
Our cynical disbelief that this vision can be true is, perhaps more than anything else, the biggest threat to the American dream. It’s cool to be cynical, doubtful, suspicious. Some believe it’s saccharine Pollyanna, pie-in-the-sky unwillingness to face reality to believe this could be possible.
It’s not only possible. It’s already happening.
We can live in the same communities. We already ARE.
We can share life in the same space. We already ARE.
Is it perfect? No.
Is there any place on earth that is? No.
But the foundation is here. Let’s get to work and keep building on it.
We are all in America. We are all in it together.