On Tuesday, as America prepared to observe the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President Barack Obama delivered a speech to encourage children to work hard and stay in school.
Unfortunately, thousands of students across the country did not see his speech, which took place during the school day. These are children whose parents insisted the president’s message will be un-American.
“Socialism” was the word being kicked around.
One cowardly school district after another — in many states, but especially in that trailblazing territory called Texas — caved to pressure in the wake of right-wing extremists’ using the Internet and talk radio in their relentless crusade to polarize America further.
Like Jehovah’s Witnesses permitted to excuse themselves from Halloween celebrations in classrooms because of their faith, students whose parents hate Obama were allowed to miss the president’s speech when it was broadcast in classrooms across the country.
Apparently, opposition to Obama is now a recognized religion.
Just as apparently, the most important lesson of 9/11 has been lost.
Remember how you felt right after the attacks in 2001? All those calls to loved ones, the tears of shock as we watched doomed Americans jump to their deaths, the vows to count the blessings in our lives and to be kinder to our neighbors.
Remember how stores couldn’t keep the American flag in stock?
Remember all those prayers recited in unison by the devoted alongside people who hadn’t stepped foot in a place of worship for years?
Differences evaporated. We were all Americans, by God. We were going to rise from the ashes of evil through the sheer force of our unity.
A lot has happened since then. We’re still at war in Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with the attacks but everything to do with our former president’s agenda. We’ve elected a new president, who is revered and reviled for the same reason, that being his lack of resemblance to any man who’s held the office before.
We also are steeped in a national debate that’s starting to feel like a domestic war over who should and shouldn’t have access to affordable health care.
Judging from recent town hall meetings — with references to communism, socialism and Nazism screamed by people who illustrate little familiarity with any of these isms — it appears the collective American mind has snapped back to consciousness. Unity, that whole we’re-in-thistogether thing? ‘Twas but a dream.
Last week, a woman in a wheelchair, nervously holding another person’s hand for strength, was shouted down by hecklers when she tried to speak out for health care reform at a rally in New Jersey. In New Jersey, second only to New York in the number of citizens’ lives lost in the terrorist attacks.
In Cincinnati, a recent breast cancer survivor who has lost her insurance was jeered when she dared to suggest that people like her deserve health care, too. At a California rally, one protestor bit off a fingertip of another protestor’s. As of my deadline, there were conflicting reports as to whether the biter was for health care reform or against it.
As if this were the issue. Note to children: Use your words, not your teeth.
In a perfect world — or in the America we imagined we had become in the days immediately after the attacks — teachers and parents across the country would set aside a few minutes this Friday to describe a precious but fleeting moment in our recent history.
It was a time when most Americans, regardless of their personal politics, felt their own hearts swell when our president said, on Sept. 20, 2001, “We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.”
When even those Americans who didn’t know how they were going to pay the next month’s rent donated money to help the families whose loved ones kissed them goodbye in the morning and were incinerated into nothingness by noon.
It was a time, dear children, when parents everywhere hovered around television sets and prayed that more of our fellow Americans would be found alive.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and the author of two books from Random House, “Life Happens” and “… and His Lovely Wife.”
©2009 Creators Syndicate