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Strength can be found in nation's unity

July 07, 2002|by GINNY FITE

I noticed recently that I'm still weeping when stories about New York firefighters lost in the catastrophe that was Sept. 11 are told on television or radio.

The most recent commentary to set me off was David Halberstam talking about his new book, "Firehouse."

He wasn't being manipulative; he was just telling the stories of 13 men from Engine 40, Ladder 35 firehouse who responded to the attacks on the World Trade Center. Only one survived.

I was driving about 55 miles an hour at the time; the sorrow overtook me.

I had expected that feeling of helpless sorrow to stop by, say, May. That seemed like a good date for grief to end.

Eight months, I thought, was enough.

I've also noticed that seeing the flag waving - our flag, the American flag - gives me chills, makes me smile, makes me feel, well, proud.

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I feel almost idiotic about the giddiness the sight of the red, white and blue blowing in the breeze can give me. It's just strips of colored fabric sewn together.

Nevertheless, this feeling of pride, as if it were ingrained, has stayed with me these long months as we recovered from those despicable acts of terror in September.

I'm wondering if patriotism might be the balancing emotion to sorrow. I'm wondering if that emotion turns into mindless chauvinism if we are attacked again.

Because I also still experience anger. I find it next to phenomenal that somehow we gave Saddam Hussein's stepson a visa to enter the country. Are we out of our minds? Who, exactly, is issuing these permissions to enter the country and have we ever given them an IQ test?

And the stepson's in Florida and he wants to go to flight school? And it's only when we discover he doesn't have a student visa that we're going to send him home?

Hey, no worry. He'll probably get a student visa in the mail about nine months from now.

I'm proud to be an American but sometimes I think we are the world's biggest bumblers. We've made art out of pratfalls - think the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis. I just want to think we're in better hands than the Little Tramp's (Charlie Chaplin) when it comes to world politics and national security.

Isn't the INS supposed to communicate with the FBI and the CIA and the NSA and all the other alphabet soup agencies? I guess if I were Mr. Bush, after I finished jumping up and down and turning red, I'd be asking my top guys how we let this happen while we're making noises that we're going to launch a "first strike" against Iraq.

And then, when the "under God" decision came down a couple weeks ago, my reaction was, "Give me a break." Like, we don't have serious things to worry about?

Did the complainant in the suit want the words to be "under a higher power?" Or was he just annoyed that we were teaching kids to be loyal to their country and God was a convenient excuse to object to the pledge?

I'm old enough to be in the generation that had to relearn the Pledge of Allegiance. There was no "under God" clause when I first learned it in grammar school. We went directly from "one nation indivisible" right to "with liberty and justice for all."

It seemed sufficient then. When they added "under God," somehow that didn't change the pledge for me. Didn't make it stronger or weaker. It was that "one nation indivisible" that meant something to me.

I still believe that. Saying the pledge every day for 12 years ingrained it in me. No one can divide us.

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