Like most Americans, I have been consuming a lot of news over the past week. TV, newspapers and emails from friends. Two of the most poignant pieces that I have read were sent to me via email. One, from the Miami Herald on September 12, 2001, captures the essence of our anger and the American spirit in the first few hours after the attack. Leonard Pitts, Jr. writes, ” What was it you hoped we would learn? Whatever it was, please know that you failed. Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause. Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve. Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.”
Another article, from a Canadian newspaper, reminds us of America’s unique position in this world as the good neighbor, “I can name you 5000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble?”
These pieces, not unlike many that must have been written during wars of the past, moved me beyond words. At 27, this attack is by far the most significant and tragic national event that I have experienced. So, amid the chaos and conflicting emotions of the past week, it is these pieces that caused me to think about my generation-Generation X.
We are the late twenty-somethings who have known only the good times. We’ve never lived as self-sufficient adults in a bad economy (we were not quite old enough in 1992). And, even though we watched the Gulf War unfold on CNN, our self-absorbed teenage years were barely affected. There were no battles on our turf and, as a result, we watched the attacks on TV just like we watched an adventure movie plot unfold. As evidenced by recent box office hits, many in my generation are fascinated with war stories of the past. To us, the adventure, the emotion and the dedication seem the stuff of great fictional plots.
If there is one good thing that has come out of this past week it is that the younger generations in the country are, perhaps for the first time, experiencing feelings of true patriotism. We feel proud to live in this country and we are showing it by displaying the red, white and blue; the last time we did this was when we decorated our bikes for the neighborhood 4th of July parade. Our hearts ache for the victims and their families and we are responding by coordinating candlelight vigils; something we thought only hippie activists did in the 60s. As we yearn to reconcile this tragedy in our minds we activate our bodies by helping in any way we can-donating blood, purchasing supplies; things we did in the past for our scout badges, without really considering their impact.
None of these acts erases the tragedies or reduces the pain (a hard lesson for X’ers to face), but they do knit us tighter into the national community. They do give us something in common with our parents and our grandparents who have lived through other wars. If you ask them how they survived those wars, they will tell you that they relied on their unquestioned love of country. Their patriotism. It kept the soldiers motivated during battle and kept the civilians involved at home.
Younger generations, take notice! This is a moment you will remember forever. Our nation has come together-be moved by that. America is, and will remain, the world’s good neighbor-let your actions reflect that. Patriotism will guide us through this difficult time-recognize it, embrace it, and never, ever forget what it feels like.
Jennifer Henry is the partner of Geoff Henry, NE, and is the Office Manager of The Harbus.